INDIANAPOLIS — New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger remembers watching stall-ball when he was attending high school in Indiana.
On Saturday, he brought it back.
Slessinger instructed his players to trade their up-tempo style for a more deliberate approach, using a modern-day shot-clock version of the tactic that Hinkle Fieldhouse helped turn into a Hollywood hit — and it almost worked again.
Kellen Dunham scored 15 points, Khyle Marshall had 13 points and eight rebounds and Roosevelt Jones finished with 11 points and six rebounds as No. 17 Butler struggled to hold off the patient Privateers 57-44.
“That’s not how we usually play. Normally the shot clock for us is not an issue,” Slessinger said. “The way we pulled the ball out, I know you all thought it was going to a Bloomfield 12-11 game, a game from the 1950s. I was at one of those at Bloomfield one time.”
Slessinger was referring to another high school in his home state.
And there were plenty of reasons to make the change.
This program, now back to Division I status, lacked the size, depth or talent the Bulldogs have used to climb back into the Top 25 after reaching two of the last three national championship games. The Privateers (3-10) had not faced a team quite like the Bulldogs this season, and given the way things have been going, heck, it was worth a shot.
Lovell Cook finished with 11 points and Traddarius McPhearson added 10 to lead New Orleans, which has lost five straight overall, is 0-6 in true road games this season and has lost 15 straight road games to Division I foes. The Privateers hadn’t even faced a Top 25 since beating No. 21 North Carolina State 65-63 on Nov. 18, 2007.
So Slessinger tried something different.
“I was really happy with the way we played halfcourt defense,” Slessinger said. “Eventually, they were able to make some baskets but that’s what they do.”
The Bulldogs weren’t quite as happy with how they responded to throwback Saturday.
“We just had too many turnovers and missed too many shots,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “If a team is going to use the clock like that, you better make your layups.”
Based on their traditional standards, it was a horrible day. Butler (12-2) committed seven turnovers in the first 8 minutes and finished with 15. It was just 5 of 16 from 3-point range and 17 of 42 (40.5 percent) from the field. And against the much smaller Privateers, Butler only held a 22-14 scoring advantage in the paint.
That was what Slessinger was hoping to do — confound a team that normally does the same thing to higher-profile opponents.
Eventually, though, Butler figured out a solution. It pulled away late in the first half, opened the second half with a quick scoring flurry and refused to extend its defense to help New Orleans shoot its way back into the game.
The combination was good enough to help the Bulldogs improve to 7-0 at home and win their ninth straight game. By the time Butler makes its Atlantic 10 debut on Wednesday night at conference favorite Saint Joseph’s, Stevens knows his team will have to be sharper.
“We have to play Butler basketball, we have to play our ‘A’ game the next two games, really for the next month,” he said before reeling off the list of upcoming opponents. “You better bring it, you better be good because B-plus won’t cut it anymore.”
New Orleans certainly put on a good show in Slessinger’s old stomping ground.
Butler trailed 9-7 midway through the first half, and the superior Bulldogs never quite got a handle on the game until Dunham lined up his 3-pointer to give Butler a 13-11 with 6:01 to go. A few minutes later, Andrew Smith posted up for a layup, drew a foul and made a free throw. That sent the Bulldogs on a 9-3 run to close the half and gave them a 24-18 lead.
The Bulldogs kept the momentum in the second half.
Alex Barlow, who had made only three baskets in the 3½ games since making the shot to topple No. 1 Indiana, got it started with his second 3 of the season. Marshall followed that with a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Jones and Rotnei Clarke knocked down a 3 to make it 32-20 with 17:35 to go.
That was all the Bulldogs needed to pull away, and New Orleans couldn’t get closer than eight again.
“We’re not concerned at all,” Marshall said. “Like coach said, it was just one of those games. We know it wasn’t our best game, we’ve just got to get better.”