INDIANAPOLIS – Butler found a fitting way to honor Andrew Smith on Saturday.
It played with the passion and grit that was a trademark of their former center.
Kellen Dunham scored 24 points, Kelan Martin added 22 and No. 23 Butler overcame a ragged start to pull away from St. John's 78-58. But this game was about a lot more than basketball.
An unusually subdued sold-out crowd honored Smith, the former Bulldog who died Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer at age 25. Fourteen members of his family, including his young widow, Samantha, attended the game, and Butler made sure it was a fitting tribute.
"Whatever we did today, we wanted it to be about Andrew and his family," coach Chris Holtmann said, pausing to stay composed. "That was our only objective."
The Bulldogs (13-4, 2-3 Big East) succeeded largely because of the contributions of the last two of Smith's ex-teammates still on the team — Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, who scored only five points but had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
But the events made it tough for everyone to focus on the game.
Before tip-off, there was a moment of silence and a video tribute for Smith. After winning, Holtmann gave Smith's father a game ball. Players wore warmup shirts with Smith's number, 44, and a patch on their jersey. Holtmann donned a No. 44 lapel pin on his sport coat, and in the most emotional scene of the day, Samantha Smith spoke to the crowd at halftime.