St. John's-Butler Preview
Even after Andrew Smith's basketball career at Butler ended in 2013, he remained an influential part of the program right up until his death from cancer this week.
Looking to halt their early Big East woes, the No. 23 Bulldogs can use Smith's legacy as inspiration Saturday while trying to extend a school-record losing streak for visiting St. John's to nine games.
A member of Butler's national runner-up teams in 2010 and 2011, the 6-foot-11 Smith started 103 games and scored 1,147 points in his four seasons with the Bulldogs. Smith was diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma early in 2014, but still spent time with the Bulldogs (12-4, 1-3) last season and was in attendance for their 74-68 win over then-No. 9 Purdue on Dec. 19 at nearby Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"It meant so much to our players (for him to be at that game), those who played with him and those who got to know him through this experience," coach Chris Holtmann said.
Holtmann, who joined Butler's staff the season after Smith left, said he called the former forward prior to this season and asked if he wanted the program to do anything for him. He told Holtmann to have a good season.
"We're going to do our best to do that," Holtmann said after learning of the 25-year-old's passing Tuesday.
Leading scorers Kellen Dunham (15.3 points per game) and Roosevelt Jones (14.6) are the only current Bulldogs who played with Smith, but his presence and fight against cancer inspired the entire program.
"When I talk to (former Butler coach) Brad (Stevens) and those who were here with him, what they always bring up is the fact that he was tough, he made his teammates better and he was a good person," Holtmann said.
Sporting a uniform patch in honor of Smith and paying tribute with a video at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, the Bulldogs need to display some of that toughness after falling 60-55 to No. 11 Villanova on Sunday. Butler set season lows for points, field-goal percentage (35.8) and assists (six).
Though each of the Bulldogs' league defeats have come against ranked opponents, two were at home, and they shot 38.9 percent in those losses. They've averaged 68.5 points in Big East play after scoring 89.9 and shooting 51.2 percent in nonconference action.
"If something like this beats us down, we aren't ready to play in the Big East," Holtmann said. "We have to get a lot better."
Butler didn't have an easy time beating a DePaul team that's also winless in the league, but the Bulldogs played well in that 77-72 victory Jan. 5. They shot 49.0 percent, had 17 assists and scored 24 points off 17 Blue Demons turnovers.
Last in the Big East with an average of 67.6 points, St. John's (7-11, 0-5) lost 93-73 to Georgetown on Wednesday to set a school record with an eighth consecutive defeat. The Red Storm haven't dropped their first six league games since going 0-10 in 2003-04.
"It hurts," said senior swingman Ron Mvouika, who has averaged 15.7 points and shot 55.6 percent in the last three contests. "It feels like the world is on your shoulders. But we'll figure things out and at some point we'll break through."
Dunham totaled 49 points and hit half of his 28 shots while Butler swept last season's two-game series from the Red Storm.
St. John's has dropped 11 in a row against ranked opponents.