DAVIDSON, N.C. -- ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach provides instant analysis from No. 22 Butler's 75-63 win over Davidson in Saturday's BracketBusters game at John M. Belk Arena.
Game analysis: Davidson All-American guard Stephen Curry returned from a one-game absence, healing quickly after spraining his left ankle a week ago. But Curry was largely ineffective against Butler, missing his first eight shots from the floor. In fact, Curry didn't score for more than 13 ½ minutes to start the game, finally breaking the ice on a layup with 6:27 to play in the half.
After trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half, Davidson cut its deficit to 34-29 on Curry's baseline jumper with less than a second to play. A Curry 3 to open the second half made it a two-point game, but Butler countered with a 13-3 run to go ahead 47-35 with 16:38 to play. The Bulldogs led by as many as 17 points in the second half, and the Wildcats never got closer than 10 points in the game's final 16 minutes.
How the game was won: Butler put the clamps on Curry and pounded Davidson with its superior post players. The Bulldogs outscored the Wildcats 34-22 in the paint and had 13 second-chance points. Davidson wasn't very good taking care of the basketball, either, turning it over 19 times. Butler converted the Wildcats' miscues into 19 points.
Turning point: After Davidson trailed by five points at halftime, Curry opened the second half by sinking a 3-pointer from the right wing. But Butler's Gordon Hayward answered with a 3-pointer of his own to put the Bulldogs' ahead 37-32. Then Davidson turned it over on four straight possessions. Butler took a 44-32 lead on Hayward's two foul shots with 17:19 to play, and the game was never close again.
Player of the game: Hayward, a freshman from the Indianapolis suburb of Brownsburg, might become college basketball's next mid-major star. He scored a carer-high 27 points on 6-for-12 shooting with nine rebounds. He also was 4-for-7 on 3-point attempts and made 11 of 12 foul shots. Hayward, who last season led Brownsburg High School to the Indiana Class 4A state championship (he made a buzzer-beater to defeat Marion High in the state finals), has scored 20 points or more six times this season.
Player of the game II: Butler point guard Ronald Nored, another freshman who hails from Homewood, Ala., scored six points and took only four shots in the game. But Nored did a sensational job of hounding Curry for much of the game, holding the country's leading scorer to 20 points on 6-for-23 shooting. Curry went only 2-for-13 on 3-point attempts and had seven turnovers.
Stat of the game: Davidson's accuracy on 3-pointers. The Wildcats were 6-for-24 against Butler and are 9-for-47 from the 3 in their past two games, both losses.
What it means: Butler can breathe a little easier after ending its two-game losing streak and getting a road victory against a team that came within one win of reaching the Final Four in 2008. But Davidson is going to be pretty anxious over the final two weeks of the regular season. The Wildcats had an RPI rating around No. 54 entering Saturday's game and own only one quality victory -- a 68-65 win over West Virginia (neutral court) on Dec. 9. With the loss to Butler, Davidson is now 1-4 against RPI Top-50 teams. The Wildcats might have to win the Southern Conference Tournament, March 6-9 in Chattanooga, Tenn., to return to the NCAA tournament.
What's next for Butler:
The Bulldogs have a one-game lead over Green Bay for first place in the Horizon League standings with two regular-season games to play. Butler plays both those games at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, against Youngstown State on Thursday night and Cleveland State on Saturday.
What's next for Davidson:
The Wildcats have a two-game lead over The Citadel in the South Division of the Southern Conference. Davidson has three more regular-season games, starting with Wednesday's home game against UNC Greensboro. The Wildcats also host Georgia Southern on Saturday and close the regular season at Elon on March 2.
Mark Schlabach covers college basketball and football for ESPN.com.