INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — North Dakota proved it could compete with the more skilled Butler Bulldogs during the first 10 minutes of the game. And then Kellen Dunham found his stroke.
Many of the Butler shots came up short of the rim, both from the field and the free-throw line. Neither team was able to string together shots to take control early.
Josh Schuler found Troy Huff, who drove to the basket for a layup, giving North Dakota an 11-10 lead with 10:32 left in the first, its third and final lead of the night.
Dunham struggled with his shot early, going just 1-of-4 in the game's first 10:30, then seemed to flip a switch with the Bulldogs trailing by one and took control of the game by scoring 15 of Butler's final 29 first half points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Perhaps the game-changing moment was not a result of his shooting but his passing.
Huff missed a jumper for North Dakota (2-5) that Dunham corralled and drove down the court and lofted the ball to the basket, as Khyle Marshall broke free to pluck ball from the air for a thunderous dunk as the smaller-than-normal crowd at Hinkle Fieldhouse erupted.
To close the half with a statement, Dunham hit a three-pointer from about 35 feet out as the buzzer sounded.
Dunham led all scorers with 29 points on 9-of-15 from the field, 5-of-8 from behind the arc and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Marshall added 21 points, however he struggled 3-of-7 from the line.
North Dakota could not recover as the Butler defense rode the momentum from the surging offense.
Butler (6-2) went on a 33-6 run that spanned halftime, beginning with 4:42 left in the first half and ending with 15:14 left in the second, making it 54-26.
Huff led North Dakota with 20 points and five rebounds. Jaron Nash added 10.