No. 22 Minnesota beats No. 12 Butler

Published 8:11 am Friday, November 27, 2009

Whenever he subbed in a reserve, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith got the same production as he did with his starters — and sometimes even better.

That spark off the bench amounted to a long night for No. 12 Butler.

With three backups in double figures, No. 22 Minnesota earned its first win away from home this season, beating Butler 82-73 on Thursday in the first round of the 76 Classic.

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“When you beat a team ranked ahead of you, that’s a good thing,” Smith said. “We were the underdog coming in. This will go far, but it’s still early in the season. It will give us some confidence, which will go a long way towards the postseason.”

The Golden Gophers’ bench outscored Butler’s 46-8 to help them advance to the semifinals of a tournament that concludes Sunday.

“Obviously, I don’t feel like we played as well as we would have liked to, but give credit to Minnesota. They are an outstanding team,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “They are an incredibly deep team. Obviously, 46 points off the bench speaks for itself. I told our guys that I’ll coach them a lot better. We have a quick turnaround, so we have to make the most of the next couple of days and it’s going to be difficult.”

Damian Johnson led Minnesota with 18 points and was instrumental in shutting down Butler’s Gordon Hayward, who made just three of eight field-goal attempts. Hayward had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Colton Iverson finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Gophers (4-0), who held off the Bulldogs by making five 3-pointers in the final 8 minutes. Minnesota also converted 12 of 18 free throws in the last 3 minutes.

“They’re really deep and so there isn’t a lot of guys you can look at and say, back up and not get up in them,” Butler forward Matt Howard said. “They’ve got a lot of good shooters.”

Howard shot 15-of-18 on free throws and paced Butler (3-1) with 23 points before fouling out with 2:29 left. Shelvin Mack added 20 points and six rebounds.

Butler beat six of the previous seven Big Ten teams it played, but struggled to score against Minnesota’s stifling defense. The Bulldogs committed a season-high 21 turnovers and shot 33 percent from the field. The miscues were their most under third-year coach Stevens.

“We’re a very good ball-pressure team. Our on-the-ball defense was pretty good,” Smith said. “We’re pretty quick and we’re pretty long and we’re very aggressive, always trying to get deflections.”

With the score tied 38-all, Minnesota, which beat its first three opponents by an average of 34 points, took the lead for good with a 9-1 run that was capped by Lawrence Westbrook’s 3-pointer.

Westbrook, the team’s leading scorer, didn’t get on the board until making two free throws to give the Gophers a 40-38 advantage with 14:01 left in the second half. He finished with nine points.