Halftime thoughts: Valpo 31, Butler 30

VALPARAISO, Ind. -- If Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs want that perfect 18-0 conference record, they're going to have to earn it.

That's the lesson from Friday night's first half here, where the Bulldogs trail, 31-30, to a feisty Valpo team at halftime.

Butler is playing without leading scorer and NBA prospect Gordon Hayward -- who is sitting out with back spasms, no doubt disappointing the handful of NBA scouts in attendance -- and it shows. The Bulldogs are struggling to get into their offense, and their bigs (Matt Howard and Andrew Smith, specifically) have struggled to get clean looks on the interior.

Meanwhile, Butler is probably a little lucky not to trail by even more -- Valpo has managed to get to the hoop with regularity, and if the Crusaders, who average 38 percent from behind the arc, had made a few more threes (they were 0-for-10 in the first half) Butler would find its deficit far more overwhelming.

Willie Veasley (11 points, five rebounds, one block) has stepped up in a big way for the Bulldogs, finding productive looks off the dribble when the rest of the Bulldogs have looked offensively stagnant. It's hard to stress how much Hayward is missed; the Bulldogs clearly have the athletic ability to get good looks against a Valpo team that often seems lost on defense, but there's a lack of rhythm to Butler's offensive possessions that would be foolish not to attribute to Hayward's versatility.

Meanwhile, Valpo guard Brandon McPherson is having a dream night. In his last home game as a Crusader, the team's lone senior was honored at midcourt for Senior Night. Then, when he walked on the court, McPherson broke the Valpo all-time record for games played with 128. To top it off, he's played a very solid offensive game, leading his team with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.