CLEVELAND -- Butler's strong offense inside and defense outside is what has the Bulldogs (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) on a roll.
"They are playing great basketball right now," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said after the Bulldogs (23-4, 16-0) tied the school record for consecutive wins set in 1999-2000 and matched the best start in Horizon League conference play set by Wisconsin-Green Bay in 1995-96. They also swept the season series from the Vikings (13-13, 9-5), who had beaten them in the conference tournament championship game last season.
"I haven't really thought about the winning streak, but I do know it is a big deal to keep getting better," Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said. "As long as there is season left, the best moment should not be behind you."
Butler has clinched its fourth straight regular-season title, but wants to win the tournament, too.
"We talk a great deal about working to keep achieving," Howard said. "You allow yourself to settle, only bad things can happen. Cleveland State is always a challenge for us."
Waters said he expects to meet the Bulldogs again in the tournament.
The Vikings will have to play much better, especially in rebounding and shooting. They were outrebounded 46-20 and finished 1 of 15 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Howard and Hayward outrebounded the Vikings by themselves, 24-20. Howard had 21 points and 13 rebounds; Hayward 19 points and 11 rebounds
"Giving them so many second-chance shots and not rebounding really hurt," said D'Aundray Brown, who led Cleveland State with 14 points.
The Vikings had a six-game winning streak snapped and lost for the first time in 15 conference home games. They hadn't lost a home game to a league opponent since falling 50-48 to Butler on Dec. 4, 2008, but took an early lead before getting into foul trouble.
Cleveland State led 16-10 -- then went 8 minutes without a field goal. Shelvin Mack scored four points for Butler in a 12-3 run for a 22-19 lead, but the Bulldogs couldn't pull away as they kept turning the ball over.
"That's the one part of our game where I'm not happy," Stevens said. "But it is fixable."
On Thursday night, Butler had 11 turnovers before halftime, then came back to win 68-57 at Youngstown State.
The Bulldogs had nine turnovers in the first half Saturday -- but a Cleveland State defensive lapse enabled them to take a 29-27 halftime lead. After Norris Cole converted a three-point play to tie it with 3.9 seconds left, the Vikings allowed Hayward to dribble the length of the court and lay the ball in at the buzzer.
"He's won two games and sent another to overtime on plays like that," Stevens said.
The Bulldogs opened the second half with an 8-2 run. Vikings center Aaron Pogue picked up his fourth foul with 15:11 left and Brown got his fourth 56 seconds later. Butler soon led 43-33.
"Once they got it to 10, they were on cruise control," Waters said.
The Bulldogs' win matched a 15-game streak by Siena that was snapped by Niagara on Friday night.