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Thad Matta’s return victorious as Butler rolls New Orleans

Butler Bulldogs head coach Thad Matta claps from the sidelines Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Butler Bulldogs defeat the Davenport Panthers, 91-55, in the preseason scrimmage.

Ncaa Basketball Butler Basketball Vs Davenport Exhibition Davenport At Butler Bulldogs
Credit: Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Thad Matta’s return to the college basketball sidelines was a resounding success as Butler rolled to a season-opening 89-53 victory over New Orleans Monday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Six-foot-11 North Carolina State transfer Manny Bates produced a career-high 25 points — highlighted by six dunks — along with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in 28 minutes for Butler (1-0) as the 55-year-old Matta won his first game as a head coach since parting ways with Ohio State in June 2017.

Chuck Harris posted 17 points and Purdue transfer Eric Hunter Jr. added 14 points as all five starters hit double figures in Matta’s first game as Butler’s boss since March 18, 2001, in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

Denver transfer Jordan Johnson paced New Orleans (0-1) with 15 points while Tyson Jackson added 14 points. Butler limited the Privateers to 41 percent shooting while forcing 30 turnovers.

Johnson swished a 30-footer to open the season’s scoring for the Privateers, but Butler gradually took control with an aggressive man-to-man defense that forced UNO into 14 turnovers in the game’s first 15 minutes.

Harris’ unguarded 3-pointer from the corner gave Butler its first double-digit lead (20-10) with 8:12 left in the first half and forced New Orleans to use its first timeout.

Then Hunter took over by attacking the basket repeatedly. During a four-minute stretch, he drove for a left-handed layup, a resounding lefty slam and a right-handed layup to boost Butler’s margin to 32-16. Bates added back-to-back slams as the Bulldogs carried a 46-21 lead into intermission.

Butler’s lead swelled to 32 points early in the second half as Bates and reserve Pierre Thomas threw down consecutive slams to make it 59-27.

The Bulldogs played without two of their four highly touted transfers — Akron’s Ali Ali and Georgia State’s Jalen Thomas — due to injury. New Orleans big man Simeon Kirkland, who was selected to the Southland Conference’s preseason second team along with Jackson, picked up two early fouls and finished with 4 points and 3 rebounds.

–Field Level Media