MILWAUKEE (AP) — Butler pushed around a team that had designs on following in its bracket-busting footsteps.
With the way Avery Woodson shot from the perimeter in the first half Thursday, the Bulldogs had little to worry about down the stretch against Winthrop.
Woodson scored 18 points and tied a career high with six 3-pointers in his tourney debut, and the fourth-seeded Bulldogs contained star guard Keon Johnson in a 76-64 win over the 13th-seeded Eagles in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I liked their attention to detail, for the most part. I liked their ability to share the ball, for the most part,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “I thought we did some good things against a quality team.”
Woodson, a graduate transfer from Memphis, hit five 3s in the first half to help the fourth-seeded Bulldogs build a 14-point halftime lead. A 12-2 run in the middle of the second half gave Butler a 60-43 lead with less than eight minutes left and put the game out of reach.
Xavier Cooks had 23 points to lead the Big South champion Eagles (26-7).
“They jumped on us early and that’s a hard team to come back on because of their style of play,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said.
Butler (24-8) looked comfortable all afternoon at the Bradley Center, the home of Big East rival Marquette. The last time the Bulldogs played in Milwaukee, Woodson scored 17 points in a 68-65 victory over Marquette last month.
Once a mid-major darling, Butler set the tone with an aggressive style befitting a midseason Big East game.
“They were a big, physical team,” said Johnson, who finished with 18 points on 7 of 19 shooting.
One more win in Milwaukee and Butler could advance to its fifth Sweet 16 since 2003.
“We feel like home wherever we go,” said Butler guard Kamar Baldwin, who defended Johnson for much of the game.
Winthrop: The loss ends the stellar college career of Johnson, a dynamic guard who can drive fearlessly and pull up for a 3. Kelsey called Johnson the “heart and soul” the Eagles. He led the team to its first NCAA appearance since 2010.
“He’s one of the best players in the history of this school and I thought (Butler) did a very good job in their game plan in trying to contain” him, Kelsey said.
Butler: The hot start from 3-point range bodes well for a team that shot 36 percent from behind the arc coming into the game. The Bulldogs finished 8 of 19 from 3 (42 percent) against Winthrop thanks in large part to Woodson.
“He got hot early, kind of cooled down in the second half,” Baldwin said. “But we’re going to need him to keep taking those shots to get through this March Madness.”
Tyler Wideman’s dunk on an alley-oop pass from Tyler Lewis made the crowd swoon and gave Butler a 62-43 lead with 7:22 left.
Defense, though, carried the Bulldogs during their second-half run after Winthrop went more than three minutes without a field goal.
Johnson, a 5-foot-7 guard, scored seven straight points during one stretch of the second half to get the Eagles within seven with 13:28 to go. Otherwise, the 6-foot Baldwin, did an admirable job sticking with Johnson, the Big South Player of the Year.
“He’s so dynamic with the ball. I thought Kamar worked extremely hard to make it difficult for him,” Holtmann said.
“Listen, my staff just told me that I look terrible. That I look like I haven’t slept. The reason was that kid. He’s a load to guard.” — Holtmann, on Winthrop’s Johnson.
Cooks, a lanky 6-foot-8 swingman, had good looks on drives in the lane in the first half but had trouble getting shots to fall. He finished 10 of 22 from the field and 3 of 10 from behind the arc.
Butler moves on to a second-round matchup Saturday against fifth-seeded Minnesota or 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee.