INDIANAPOLIS — Tu Holloway refused to let pesky Butler get in Xavier's way again Wednesday night.
So he took matters into his own hands.
On a night Holloway managed to make only one basket, the All-American guard got things done another way. He continually drove to the rim, drew fouls and connected on 14 of 16 free throws, finishing 16 points and seven rebounds as No. 8 Xavier held off Butler 73-61.
"We were just ready to play tonight and we were on top of our game," Holloway said. "When we're on top of our game. I feel like we can beat anyone."
In fact, the Musketeers have beaten everyone, which is why they have their highest ranking since December 2007.
They've now beaten two of Indiana's biggest names, Purdue and Butler, in back-to-back games, are 7-0 overall and 2-0 on the road after winning earlier this season at Vanderbilt.
Still, the Bulldogs have been a constant thorn in Xavier's side.
Butler had won three of the last four including the ugly ending in their last visit to Hinkle Fieldhouse. Gordon Hayward scored on a last-second layup and after the clock was stopped with 1.2 seconds to go, the officials determined there was a clock malfunction and ran off the rest of the time as both teams watched from near their bench.
There was no way the Musketeers were going to let it happen again. Holloway's backcourt mate, Mark Lyons added 16 points. Freshman Dezmine Wells had 13 points and the Musketeers committed only 13 turnovers.
The message was simple: Xavier is as good as people think.
"It seems like we're playing statement game after statement game," coach Chris Mack said. "But we embrace that, I know Butler does as well. We don't have any chippies coming up and Butler doesn't either. I think if you want to be the best, you have to play the best and you have to challenge yourself."
The Musketeers left nothing to chance in a gritty, ugly game.
But this is not the same Butler squad that lost in each of the last two national championship games.
The Bulldogs (4-5) managed only five first-half baskets and connected on just 2 of 21 3-pointers Wednesday night.
Guards Chase Stigall and Roosevelt Jones were the only Butler players to reach double figures. Each scored 10 points, and Jones provided the biggest scare of the night for Butler fans when he needed help leaving the floor in the second half. The fear was that the freshman had hurt his left knee. Turns out, it was only leg cramps and he should be all right for the next four-game stretch that has dates at Ball State, in Indy against Purdue and then a West Coast swing to Gonzaga and Stanford.
It's the first time since late in the 2006-07 season the Bulldogs have lost back-to-back home games. It's also the first time Butler has been under .500 this late in the season since ending 2004-05 at 13-15.
"Obviously we're upset the way we've been handling things, but we feel like if we just get over that hump, we'll be right there where we want to be, and we'll be the type of team we want to be," Stigall said. "Coach always says you can't take break. You've got to do the little things. We have to do the little things and do the important things more, and we just can't take breaks at all."
Butler is learning that lesson the hard way.
Xavier broke open a 6-4 game with a 17-0 run in the first half. Eventually, the Musketeers extended the lead to 18.
But the Bulldogs charged back from a 39-23 halftime deficit.
Butler knocked down 2 3-pointers and four baskets in the first 3:18 of the second half, closing to 43-33. After a Xavier timeout, Jones and Andrew Smith combined for six more points to make it 43-39. When the Bulldogs whittled the deficit to 45-41, Holloway finally responded.
He scored six points, including his only basket, and came up with two steals in an 11-2 run that made it 56-43 midway through the second half.Comment on this story
"We've got to get the right guys the right shots at the right times," coach Brad Stevens said. "I thought he (Smith) re-established himself a little bit in the second half with a few aggressive moves that we need. It's really important for us as we move forward."
The Bulldogs weren't finished. Eric Fromm scored five points in a 7-2 spurt that got Butler within 58-50.
This time, Lyons bailed out Xavier, scoring six points in a 10-0 run that took away the suspense.
"I just wanted to be aggressive, and be able to get to the line and get to the rim and I was getting fouled, so that's where I had to score tonight," Holloway said. "We're just sort of a well-rounded group of guys who are ready to play at all times. We're on a mission."