2017 NCAA Tournament Recap: Butler Wears Down Middle Tennessee, Clinches Sweet Sixteen Berth

From wire to wire, the Butler Bulldogs never relinquished the lead from a determined Middle Tennessee team, defeating them in the round of 32 by a score of 74-65.

MTSU looked to be battling nerves in the early going as the missed shots and turnovers began to mount. Conversely, Butler just did what Butler does.

The Bulldogs managed to stay consistent, outrebound, and mostly outplay the Blue Raiders for the majority of the first half.

Junior forward Kelan Martin spearheaded the Butler scoring with a game high 12 points, and two of three shooting from behind the arc.

After the Bulldogs jumped out to a 13 point advantage, the Blue Raiders closed the half on a 9-1 run, cutting their deficit to just five points, 36-31.

MTSU struggled to find their range early and appeared out of sorts for the first 15 minutes of the game. They finished the half shooting 40% overall.

JaCorey Williams was the only bright spot for MTSU in the shooting department. For the first frame, he went 5-11 from the field and led all Blue Raiders with 11 points.

The second half began much like the first one. Coach Kermit Davis would’ve preferred an alternative.

Poor situational defense, silly fouls, and lack of execution plagued Middle Tennessee to the point that Coach Davis ultimately started to bench underperforming players.

Star senior forward Reggie Upshaw was the first to feel Coach Davis’ wrath, as he was sat down immediately after giving up an easy bucket defensively.

Antoine Johnson came off the bench for Davis and provided a spark, stinking a jumper from the right elbow to get within six, 42-36 with 13 minutes left to play. Although, Butler’s lead quickly increased back to 10 after two straight MTSU turnovers.

Johnson wasn’t finished yet though. On back to back possessions, Johnson buried two jumpers, one of them from downtown, in the midst of a Blue Raider 9-0 run that left them only trailing Butler by three, 59-56 with just over three minutes remaining.

The Bulldogs quickly responded with a three pointer of their own, getting their lead back to six.

MTSU struggled mightily in their attempt to defend Butler’s Andrew Chrabascz. The senior forward touched them up for 15 points on 50% from the field. he used hid bigger body down low to wear down Raider defenders.

Middle Tennessee tried desperately to make a late push, once again getting to within six on Upshaw’s drive to the basket. Unfortunately, it fell short.

This loss is going to sting. MTSU was expecting a much better result after being ousted from the tournament in 2016.

They missed a golden opportunity in a winnable game and a chance at a likely sweet sixteen matchup with the #1 seed in the region, the University of North Carolina Tarheels.

That opportunity will now go to Butler as they will take on the winner of UNC/Arkansas next week.

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