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Butler’s Kellen Dunham shoots over Evansville’s Tyler Ptacek during the Bulldogs’ 68-59 win over the Purple Aces on Saturday in Evansville.

Butler pushed to the brink by ‘very spirited’ Evansville

– Alex Barlow scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, both career highs, as Butler broke away late to beat in-state rival Evansville 68-59 on Saturday.

Kellen Dunham had some timely shots on his way to 15 points for Butler (9-2) in a game that was closer in the first 30 minutes than the final score would indicate.

There were 15 lead changes and 10 ties in a game that gave Butler its fourth win this season against a team from Indiana.

Sophomore D.J. Balentine eclipsed his top-10 average of 22.8 points per game, with 26 points for Evansville (6-6).

Butler’s size advantage on the glass wore down the Aces on the interior, as the Bulldogs held a 49-31 rebounding advantage. Sixteen offensive rebounds helped Butler overcome 37.7 percent shooting, including just 6 of 22 from 3-point range.

Butler opened the second half by scoring six consecutive inside points to take a 35-32 lead.

After missing their first four 3-pointers of the second half, the Bulldogs got consecutive long-range buckets from Dunham and Barlow to start a 6-0 run. The hot streak gave Butler its biggest lead to that point at 48-41 with 8:45 left.

“Alex was open because they were overcompensating on some of our other shooters,” said Butler assistant coach Michael Lewis.

Balentine’s bucket cut Evansville’s deficit to 54-49 with 4:06 left, but the Aces did not make another field goal until Balentine’s layup at the 48-second mark.

“We got consecutive stops,” added Lewis when asked what the difference was in the final 5 minutes. “We elected to play off some guys to clog up the paint.

The first half was a defensive struggle too.

Evansville held an early 10-8 lead after two Adam Wing 3-pointers.

But both teams had a week off before the contest and the rust showed, as the game was knotted at 12 through the first 10 minutes.

Butler opened the game missing its first eight 3-point attempts, but Jackson Aldridge ended the dry spell as Butler took a 15-12 lead.

Balentine’s first field goal in six attempts gave Evansville a 21-17 lead.

Dunham and Barlow made back-to-back 3-pointers to give Butler a 23-21 lead after the Bulldogs had previously gone 1 for 12.

There were nine ties in the first half and Balentine’s 3-pointer, with 6 seconds left, broke the final tie at 29 to give Evansville a 32-29 lead at halftime.

Butler was coming off a 76-70 win over Purdue last weekend while Evansville fell to Jackson State 57-51 in its previous game.

“I am proud of our guys, they did a great job of bouncing back from last week,” Evansville head coach Marty Simmons said. “We had a great week of practice and our guys were very spirited. You have to give Butler the credit, they played a great game and deserved the win.”

Butler has now won 13 of the last 16 in this 120-game series.

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