"Xavier was the better team," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "Better playing, better coached, just better. Not even close. It would have been a shame if we had dropkicked in a couple 3-pointers and won. Xavier deserved it."
The Musketeers' game-plan was simple. The execution of that game-plan though was a different story.
Sophomore point guard Dee Davis spent all 35 minutes that he was on the floor pressuring Butler guard Rotnei Clarke, one of the nation's premiere shooters. Davis had to fight over top of screens all night long and chase, holding Butler's top player to just 3-of-11 shooting on the night with 7 points.
"When you go into a game and see the shooting presence that (Butler) brings, all those guys really put your concentration to the test," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "I thought Dee Davis was phenomenal, Semaj gave us everything he had on the defensive end, Brad, Justin - it was fun to watch how hard our kids played on defense."
"To me, that was the difference in the game. They just could not get an open look from three."
While freshman Kellen Dunham managed to make 4-of-7 shots from the field, he finished just 1-of-3 from beyond the arc and led the Bulldogs with just 11 points as Xavier did a good job of chasing him off the 3-point line as well.
After battling to a 9-9 tie through seven minutes of play, the Musketeers went on a 12-2 run to go up 21-11 with 10:01 left. The run was sparked by a jump shot from Jeff Robinson. He and Davis each scored five points during that stretch, while freshman Semaj Christon, who was making his season debut, dished out three assists.
Xavier's lead ballooned to 14 with just under five minutes to play in the half when Christon scored his first points in a Xavier uniform, but Butler made a little run of their own over the final few minutes to get back in the game.
Center Andrew Smith's rare set-shot 3-point attempt found the bottom of the net with 54 seconds left to cap an 11-2 run and bring the Bulldogs within five, but Dee Davis made a pair of free-throws to give his team a 36-29 lead at intermission.
Two big men, Jeff Robinson and Travis Taylor, provided the offensive firepower in the first half for the Musketeers. Robinson was the games' only double-digit scorer with 12 points and four boards in the first half. He had two big momentum plays with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and an and-one on a drive to the basket.
"He's been more assertive, he's been more confident," Mack said of Robinson. "He's always been one of the first guys to the gym, but you've got to be able to produce and have confidence in yourself. I told our guys after the game in our locker room that he was the best player on the court in the first half in my opinion."
Taylor performed admirably as well, finishing with 8 points on 4-of-5 shot attempts in the half, while dishing out three assists.
By the second media timeout of the second half, Xavier had extended its lead back up to 13, as Brad Redford's 3-pointer made it 46-33.
From that point on, the game never got back to single-digits. The Musketeers continued to stifle the Butler offense, and finished off their defensive stops with physical play on the boards. Eleven minutes into the second half, Butler had scored just six points.
"I thought in the second half, it seemed like Trav (Taylor) was getting every defensive rebound there for a stretch of five or six minutes," Mack said. "We were limiting them to one shot, and he was by far the highest guy up there to secure the defensive rebound. He played with a confidence and a toughness that we need him too."
The Musketeers' 7-2 run starting with 9:29 left in the game on a pair of Justin Martin free-throws pushed the lead to 20, and put the game out of reach.
While Xavier's defense came through, limiting the Bulldogs to just 36.5 percent shooting for the game, Butler's defense wasn't up to its usual standard.
""It wasn't very good defensively," Stevens said. "We gave Taylor angles, I was disappointed we didn't adjust a little more to Robinson, we got back-cut on some post feeds where they laid it in, Martin played well, hats off to them."
Robinson led all scorers with 17, while Taylor pitched in with 15. Taylor's effort pushed him over the 1,000 mark for his college career, including his two years spent at Monmouth. He also led the team with nine boards - all coming in the second half. Robinson pitched in with 8 rebounds.
"There are certain guys that can elevate a team, and you can see (Robinson) elevating them," Stevens said about Xavier's big man. "He's always had great talent."
The Musketeers will be back in action at the Cintas Center on Saturday afternoon for a 2 pm tipoff with Robert Morris.