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Kennesaw St.-Butler Preview

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Butler showed why it deserves to be back in the AP Top 25 by continuing to play impressive defense in back-to-back victories this past week.

The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs look to continue their stingy approach as they seek a 19th straight nonconference home victory Monday night against a Kennesaw State program which has been historically bad on the road.

Following wins over then-No. 5 North Carolina and Georgetown en route to a third-place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Butler (7-1) entered the national rankings last week for the first time since Feb. 25, 2013, under former coach Brad Stevens.

The Bulldogs then proved they belong with a 77-54 victory at Indiana State on Wednesday and a 65-56 home win over Northwestern on Saturday, allowing a combined 39.2 percent shooting — including 12 of 42 from 3-point range — and dominating the glass 72-57.

“We went into this (Northwestern) game having a really good understanding of what it was going to be like,” interim coach Chris Holtmann said. “It was going to be who could grind out a win. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys’ grittiness.”

Butler ranks among the top 15 nationally with 54.6 points allowed per game and sits in the top 20 at defending the 3-point line, limiting teams to 25.5 percent from long range.

Senior forward Kameron Woods, who led the Big East with an average of 9.0 rebounds in 2013-14, is third in the league this season at 9.1 per game. Senior guard Alex Barlow, meanwhile, has 15 steals over his last five games.

The Bulldogs, who haven’t lost a nonconference home game since March 2012, may be able to maintain the defensive dominance in their first meeting with Kennesaw State.

The Owls (3-6) have averaged just 42.0 points and shot a combined 29.6 percent in back-to-back defeats. They scored just 19 points on 26.3 percent shooting in the second half of Saturday’s 58-46 home loss to Kent State.

“We showed great toughness early,” coach Jimmy Lallathin told the team’s official website. “Now, it’s about maintaining that. That’s part of the maturation that I’ve got to continue working on for our guys and putting our guys in those situations. That’s something I’ve got to teach and continue to hold those expectations.”

Kennesaw State had a minus-11.8 rebounding margin while losing its five road games by an average of 24.6 points. The team hasn’t had much road success in recent years, dropping 118 of 132 away games since Feb. 18, 2006.

Leading scorer Yonel Brown will try to bounce back after missing all eight of his field-goal attempts and scoring a season worst-tying three points Saturday after he’d totaled 48 in the previous two games.

Junior forward Nigel Pruitt has three points on 1-of-12 shooting over his past two contests since averaging 15.5 while shooting 20 for 39 during a four-game stretch.

After allowing a 50.7 field-goal percentage over its first five games, Kennesaw State has tightened things up by limiting opponents to 39.3 in the past four. It lost 89-42 at then-No. 23 Syracuse on Nov. 14 in its first meeting with a ranked foe this season.

The Bulldogs have shot 51.5 percent in their last two and held a 38-20 advantage in the paint Saturday while attempting five 3-pointers — their fewest since March 1999.

Junior guard Kellen Dunham, averaging a team-high 16.8 points, is shooting 61.5 percent overall in his last three games.

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