CINCINNATI -- The young Butler Bulldogs played way beyond their experience.
Sophomore Matt Howard and freshman Gordon Hayward each scored 19 points, and Butler's inexperienced lineup kept its poise and turned back one late Xavier rally after another Tuesday night, beating the Musketeers (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) 74-65 for a benchmark victory.
Butler (10-1) hadn't beaten a ranked team since its 62-59 victory over No. 18 Maryland in the 2007 NCAA tournament. A team that starts three freshmen and a sophomore pulled this one off.
"You've got to win on the road if you want to play for something special," Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said. "We're in the beginning phase of talking about that. We can hardly get past the pregame meal right now."
In this one, the experienced team suddenly looked lost.
Xavier (9-2) was coming off an 82-64 loss to Duke on Saturday that ended the second-best start in school history and gave the Musketeers a lesson in what happens if they leave their swagger in the locker room. Duke opened with an 18-1 run that set the game on course for a blowout.
Against an old rival, the Musketeers got off to another bad start and wound up with another discouraging outcome.
"Duke was a lesson learned, and from today we've got to find out a lesson and learn from this," said forward B.J. Raymond, who was only 1-of-7 from the field and had three points. "We can't hang our head or anything like that. We've got to want to get better because some teams during the season don't do that. That separates the great teams from the good teams.
"You start off good and when you hit a bumpy spot, you can either get better or you can go down. The tradition here is we always try to get better. Teams are finding out our weaknesses, and right now we've just got to get better at our weaknesses."
It was only the Musketeers' second loss in their last 31 games at the Cintas Center. Derrick Brown led Xavier with 17 points.
Butler's only loss this season was 54-51 at Ohio State on Dec. 13. This time, the Bulldogs kept their composure down the stretch in a setting that could have been very unsettling to a young team.
"This is an intense atmosphere," said Hayward, who was 10-of-10 from the free throw line. "I've played basketball all my life and I've been in games like this, but this was different."
Butler and Xavier played regularly during their 16 years together in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, with the Bulldogs going 3-16 in Cincinnati during that time. They used their familiar style -- few turnovers, tough defense, a few 3s -- to get off to a fast start and lead most of the way.
Butler's 12-4 opening run left Xavier with a familiar, bad feeling. The Musketeers missed their first four 3-point shots while falling behind big for the second straight game.
The Musketeers made four 3s, the last by Brad Redford, during a 14-7 spurt that put them ahead 26-24 late in the first half. It would be their final lead.
Howard had two three-point plays during a 12-4 run that put Butler ahead 44-36 with 14:25 left. The Bulldogs jumped to their feet in celebration when Xavier called a timeout to blunt the run. Six times after that, Xavier got within a basket. All six times, a Bulldog made a basket or free throws to preserve the lead they held since the closing minute of the first half.
Xavier coach Sean Miller got a technical foul with 2:58 left, setting up two of Hayward's free throws as the Bulldogs rebuilt the lead to eight.
"That didn't help our cause," Miller said. "I can't get a technical at that point. That's my fault and I feel bad for that."
Xavier's final chance came after Brown made a 3-pointer with 1:52 remaining, cutting it to 68-65. Ronald Nored made two free throws to end Xavier's last run, and Howard made two more to essentially finish off the game. Butler finished 26-of-33 from the free throw line.
"The fact that their freshmen and sophomores executed the way they did in our arena is phenomenal," Miller said. "They're a very good team."
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