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Butler claims sixth straight win behind Howard

Jan 8, 2008 - 6:00 AM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Unlike their three previous wins here, Matt Howard and Butler did not need overtime.

Howard scored 19 points and Mike Green added 15 as the 14th-ranked Bulldogs led throughout en route to a 66-55 victory over Loyola-Chicago in a Horizon League matchup on Monday.

Butler (14-1, 3-1 Horizon) collected its fourth win in its last five appearances here, and captured its sixth straight win overall en route to matching the school's best start through 15 games.

Four other Bulldogs squads began a season at 14-1.

One of the top mid-major programs in the nation, Butler avoided facing another overtime against Loyola thanks to a quick start, grabbing a 14-2 lead with just over five minutes expired.

"This was a really good team effort," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "We've challenged our guys since the Valparaiso game to come out early and we did that well tonight. The first five minutes of each half were really good."

A.J. Graves connected on each of his first two 3-pointers and Howard had six points.

The Bulldogs maintained a solid cushion through the rest of the first 20 minutes, settling for a 29-21 advantage at the half after Green scored five points over the final 6:20.

The Ramblers (5-10, 1-4) did make a charge coming out of intermission, closing within three points at 35-32 after Tracy Robinson hit a 3-pointer with 15:09 remaining.

"They do a good job of spreading the floor," Stevens said of Loyola. "They have guys like Robinson and (Justin) Cerasoli who, when they get inside, can really take control and during that stretch, they were getting inside."

However, Howard and Green sandwiched a layup and a 3-pointer around a free throw by Loyola to rebuild Butler's lead back to seven points.

"In the second half we got it down to 42-39, it was a pivotal possession, and they got an easy dump-down," Loyola coach Jim Whitesell said. "Then we never seemed to recover. We just couldn't match them with baskets or get the big stops. They are a team there that really runs quality offense."

A layup by Robinson with 10:23 to go once again pulled the Ramblers to within three points at 40-37 before the Bulldogs responded with a decisive 14-3 run. Howard had seven of his 13 second-half points during the burst.

"He's a big body, he gets his position and he's a good finisher, and that's what makes a good big man," Loyola forward Andy Polka said about Howard.

It was an impressive run considering that Butler's second-leading scorer - Graves - failed to score in the second half, missing all three shots from the field.

"A.J. is one of the most unselfish people I know," Stevens said. "Loyola did a good job of guarding him and he had to spread the ball around to other guys instead. There are nights where A.J. doesn't score, but he doesn't care as long as we win."

Graves finished with just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting, well below his 15.5 average.

It was the second straight poor offensive game for the senior guard, who managed just five points in Saturday's 73-65 win over Valparaiso. After averaging 16.8 points over the first 12 games of the season, Graves has managed just 22 on 7-of-28 shooting (25 percent) over his last three.

In that span, however, Graves did hit a 35-foot shot at the buzzer to lift his squad to a 57-55 win at Southern Illinois on December 29.

Julian Betko scored six points and Drew Streicher added five, five rebounds and two steals for Butler, which shot 46 percent (22-of-48) and topped Loyola in bench points, 14-4.

J.R. Blount scored 16 points and Polka added 14 for Loyola, which had a three-game home winning streak snapped.