INDIANAPOLIS — It seemed to be just another night in college basketball, except there haven’t been many of those lately. Always something screwball. So here was Wednesday’s assignment: Pick a game from the night’s slate — just one game — that would do the job as a symbol of how inexplicable this season has been, and how baffling this sport can be.
But which one? How about Vanderbilt, not having won an SEC game in two years, shelling No. 18 LSU 99-90, while getting 30-plus career scoring nights from two different players? The Commodores had dropped 28 in a row against league competition and averaged only 59 points in going 0-8 in SEC games this season. But Saben Lee and Maxwell Evans scored 64 between them, against an LSU team that had won 10 consecutive games. Go figure.
POWER 36: Duke, Maryland, Auburn move into top 10 of Power 36 college basketball rankings
Then there was Purdue smashing Iowa 104-68. The Boilermakers team that has been fighting to stay above .500 at 13-10 is the same Boilermakers team who has beaten three ranked opponents this season — Virginia, Michigan State and now Iowa — by 29, 29 and 36 points. The 104 points were scored with the help of only three free throws and was the biggest scoring binge for Purdue in Mackey Arena against a Big Ten opponent since 1975, and biggest for Purdue against a ranked team in 50 years.
Yeah, either of those would do. But what about Butler and Villanova, and a rainy night in Hinkle Fieldhouse? That one was won 79-76 by Butler’s Kamar Baldwin at the buzzer, and yet the big stars of the night were four facility workers climbing up near the leaky roof with a bucket.
Yes, another game this season that needs explaining, for all its oddities:
- Villanova shot 53 percent from the 3-point line, committed only three turnovers . . . and lost.
- Two weeks ago, Butler’s Sean McDermott went 1-for-11 in a 76-61 defeat at Villanova, missing all seven 3-pointers he tried. He described the advice he got from his coach and his teammates: “Nothing can be done after that performance, so move on.” Wednesday night, he was 7-for-8, and made all three 3-pointers.
- Butler scored 55 of its points either in the paint or from the free throw line, but when the game was tied at the end, the Bulldogs won it from long-range. Baldwin dribbled around the perimeter for about 20 seconds, thinking about driving. When that didn’t look promising, with Collin Gillespie playing off a bit to discourage any penetration, Baldwin he went to a step-back fade-away 3-pointer in the last second. Swish. Game over.
Kamar calls GAME. pic.twitter.com/MLDG7H3SsM— Butler Basketball (@ButlerMBB) February 6, 2020
“He gave me space, so I just took what he gave me,” Baldwin said later. Did he think it was in when he let it go? “Yes, sir.” Butler hadn’t beaten anyone in Hinkle Fieldhouse at the buzzer since Roosevelt Jones stole a Gonzaga pass and did in the Zags with a floater in 2013.
Villanova coach Jay Wright, “You can’t stop everything. What he does best is drive the ball. And not just drive it but get in the lane and put it up in on the glass and they all crash the offensive glass. We were most concerned about that. We had to pick something to live with it, and he hit a great shot. That’s what great players do. That’s what seniors do. When you’re a senior, there’s no fear there.”
- But most of all, none of this happens had four workers, in two-man shifts, not climbed up to the catwalk just beneath the roof — 80 feet in the air — to stop a leak that was dripping incessantly near one sideline. Play had been halted barely seven minutes into the game. They found a red bucket already up there from a previous leak, jury-rigged a way to rope it into place, put some towels down and — voila! — the game could go on after 19 minutes.
The night's highlight might have been the winning shot by his star player, but Butler coach LaVall Jordan knew just whom to recognize first in his post-game press conference.
PURSUIT OF PERFECTION: Keep track of San Diego State's unbeaten run
“We’ve got a saying, great teams have great teammates. And obviously, the guy up top holding the bucket so we could actually play the game was an unbelievable teammate. Everybody thinks Kamar Baldwin is MVP. He doesn’t make the shot if we can’t play the game.”
By the end of the night, Butler — picked to finish eighth in the Big East — was back in a tie for third place, and that red bucket had its own Twitter account, @hinklebucket.
Look, Ma. We made it! https://t.co/5ZcGtNqOKB— The Hinkle Bucket (@hinklebucket) February 6, 2020
How so very 2019-20ish in college basketball.