GAME NOTES: The Butler Bulldogs will finish up their non-conference schedule on Saturday as they host the NJIT Highlanders in a battle at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
NJIT, which is playing as an Independent this season, is currently riding a four-game skid that has dropped them to 6-8 overall. The most recent setback was a 77-65 disappointment against Saint Francis Brooklyn, which kicked off the four-game road trip it is currently on. The next two bouts will feature visits to Hofstra and Saint Francis (PA).
Butler has been headed in the opposite direction, with wins in four straight tilts. The winning streak has the Bulldogs at 9-2 overall, including a perfect 5-0 mark at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler plays its first game as a member of the new Big East on Tuesday when its hosts No. 8 Villanova.
Saturday's matchup marks the first ever between these two programs.
The Highlanders had trouble staying in a rhythm offensively in their loss to Saint Francis Brooklyn. They knocked down just 31.7 percent of their field goal attempts, though they did connect on 7-of-16 shots from beyond the arc. Terrence Smith led the way with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
During its four-game losing streak, NJIT has really been struggling to find the basket at a consistent pace. Although they are averaging 71.3 points per game on the season, the Highlanders have scored 65 points or less in four of the last five outings. Damon Lynn (16.6 ppg) and Smith (13.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) are the most productive scorers on the roster. Lynn had 13 points in the loss to Saint Francis but did so on just 4-of-10 shooting. Winfield Willis (10.6 ppg) had eight points on a 2-of-8 shooting effort in the loss as well.
Butler visited Evansville last time out and rallied for a 68-59 victory. The Bulldogs only hit 37.7 percent of their field goal attempts in the win, but they owned a 49-31 advantage on the boards and doubled up the Purple Aces in second-chance points (16-8).
For the Bulldogs, playing well on defense has been the key under Brandon Miller, who took over as head coach when Brad Stevens took the top gig with the Boston Celtics. Butler is holding opponents to just 63.8 points per game on 42.8 percent shooting, enjoying a nearly 13-point scoring margin. Kellen Dunham (18.9 ppg) and Khyle Marshall (16.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are the top scoring options for the team. Dunham had 15 points, but on only 5-of-16 shooting against Evansville, while Marshall finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Kameron Woods (9.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg) anchors the team inside with solid scoring and rebounding.
In this matchup Butler's defensive prowess should win out as the Bulldogs clamp down on Lynn and Smith and force the rest of the Highlanders to carry the load.
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