Butler’s offense has been resurgent since an abysmal performance in the Bahamas led to its lone loss.
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs look to continue their efficient play Sunday when they visit Tennessee.
Butler (8-1) shot 23.7 percent from the field in a 59-46 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 27 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, its lowest since shooting 18.8 percent in the 2011 national final against Connecticut. The Bulldogs have since shot 51.5 percent, winning four straight games by an average of 20.0 points.
They scored on 15 of their first 16 possessions and led by as many as 26 points in the first half of Monday’s 93-51 win over Kennesaw State. Butler shot 59.2 percent, already the fourth time it has hit 53.6 percent or better. The Bulldogs last did that in 2009-10, doing so eight times en route to reaching the national title game.
“You usually know if you’re not as locked in as you need to be,” interim coach Chris Holtmann said. “I thought our guys had a really good approach today and we noticed that in shootaround.”
Roosevelt Jones, who shot a season-worst 2 for 9 versus Oklahoma, went 7 of 10 for 19 points to lead five players in double figures and added seven rebounds and seven assists. Kellen Dunham had 13 points and is 18 for 31 (58.1 percent) from the floor since going 5 for 16 against the Sooners.
Butler also played well defensively, forcing a season-high 22 turnovers to increase their opponents’ average to 17.3 per game — best in the Big East.
Tennessee (3-3) has been off since last Saturday, when it bounced back from consecutive losses to then-No. 11 Kansas and Marquette with a 65-64 home win over Kansas State.
The Volunteers gave up 47 second-half points after leading 25-17 at halftime. They held a 10-point edge late in the second half but surrendered five 3-pointers in the final 1:35.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to win,” first-year coach Donnie Tyndall said. “We get the lead and you could almost tell we start playing not to win. There’s a difference. There’s a distinct difference.”
Josh Richardson scored 17 points and is averaging a team-high 16.0 for Tennessee, which forced 22 turnovers against Kansas State.
The Vols, though, continue to have issues with perimeter defense. Opponents are shooting 38.2 percent from beyond the arc — worst in the SEC — though Butler doesn’t appear to present much of a threat with just 5.9 3-pointers per game.
Tennessee has lost eight straight against ranked opponents, though it has won four of five non-conference home games against Top 25 foes. Butler has won seven of eight non-conference road games.
The Bulldogs won the teams’ first two meetings before losing the last one, 76-71 in overtime in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.