Butler senior forward Kelan Martin has always been able to score, but has expanded his versatility this season.
Entering Tuesday night’s game with fifth-ranked Xavier in Indianapolis, Martin averages 19.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
Martin leads the Big East with a 21.9 average in conference games. The Bulldogs (17-7, 7-4 Big East) have won four consecutive games. The Musketeers (21-3, 9-2), who have won six in a row, won the first meeting 86-79 at Xavier on Jan. 2.
“I think he’s hungry to be better,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said of Martin. “That was the initial impression I got when first meeting Kelan when we got the job. He wants to be better and he’s coachable. He’s lets us get on us in practice when he does have the energy he needs to have. He’s worked on his fundamentals. He’s a much better passer. He’s a better defender than he was earlier in the season. He’s made a real commitment to it. There’s been a lot of good conversation about what he needed to do and where he needs to grow. He’s made a commitment to just dive in and do whatever the team needs.”
Martin scored 26 points with six assists and six rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 80-57 victory over visiting DePaul. Martin has scored 20 points or more in 14 of Butler’s games.
The Bulldogs have won those four games by an average of 20 points.
“We’re just trying to grow and get better every day,” said Jordan, whose team is 12-1 at home this season. “We’re trying to get more consistent on both sides of the ball.”
The Bulldogs have held opponents to 72 points or less in the past five games. That’s a contrast to the first six games where Butler opponents scored 83 or more points. In those five games, Butler is holding opponents to 62.2 points on 40 percent shooting.
“We’ve been locked in on game plan, knowing what the other team wants to do,” Butler sophomore forward Sean McDermott said. “We’re recognizing some of their plays and communicating on the court. It’s guys stepping up and making plays throughout the game.”
Butler will get another challenge in Xavier senior guard Trevon Bluiett, who leads the Musketeers with a 19.2 scoring average, hitting 42.4 percent from three-point range.
This will be Bluiett’s final game in his hometown. Bluiett played for Park Tudor in Indianapolis, winning three Class 2A state high school championships.
“He’s got high level ability,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “He’s got great confidence in his shot. He’s got a quick release. I think his teammates have a lot of confidence in him. He’s been in that moment a lot and very rarely has he disappointed.”
With 24.6 seconds left in regulation on Saturday, Bluiett hit a 3-pointer and drew the foul, converting the rare four-point play to tie Georgetown.
“I can’t tell you where it ranks, I just know it’s a good feeling,” Bluiett said of the huge play.
Xavier beat visiting Georgetown 96-91 in overtime, scoring all 10 overtime points from the foul line. Xavier hit 31 of 41 free throws against the Hoyas.
“We work on free throws every day in practice and shoot free throws before the game,” sophomore guard Quentin Goodin said. “When we get to the free throw line we have the ultimate confidence in each other.”