By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Kellen Dunham received his official introduction to big-time college basketball Saturday afternoon. And the game suits him just fine.
“It was awesome,” the Butler freshman said after scoring 18 points in a 74-59 victory against Elon at Hinkle Fieldhouse. “First real crowd. First real win. It was just an awesome experience.”
Dunham averaged 11 points and made 6 of 12 3-point attempts in exhibition wins against Marian and Indianapolis, but he was anxious to see how he’d fare in a game that counts.
The early answer: Even better.
He sank 5 of 10 attempts overall, made all five of his shots from the free-throw line and connected on 3 of 8 tries from 3-point range. Dunham added three assists and one steal.
His point total was exceeded only by Rotnei Clarke, a senior transfer from Arkansas who’s already serving as a mentor for the former Pendleton Heights star.
Clark, ranked as the nation’s best shooter in a recent column on CBS’ Sportsline website, scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting and connected on 5-of-10 from 3-point range.
“I’ve been working out with him all summer, and I knew he was going to have a big year,” said Dunham, who was ranked No. 9 in the same column despite never having played in a Division I game. “Rotnei is very skilled. There’s not many players capable of doing what he’s doing.”
Dunham’s big numbers Saturday came off the bench.
Clarke picked up two fouls in the game’s first six minutes, forcing Butler to go to its reserves early. Dunham responded with 10 points in the first half as the Bulldogs shot 61.5 percent from the floor and built a 43-26 lead.
Starter Kyle Marshall and fellow sub Kameron Woods added six points each, as Butler showcased some of its depth.
“It opens up everything for everybody,” Dunham said of the wealth of options at head coach Brad Stevens’ disposal. “We’re making a lot of plays, individually and as a team.”
Serving as the Bulldogs’ sixth man, Dunham’s 29 minutes on the court were matched only by starting forward Roosevelt Jones.
It’s a new role for a player who rarely came off the court for the Arabians, but it’s one he’s already quite comfortable in.
“I just gotta stay loose on the sideline,” Dunham said. “I try to make myself get more mentally prepared before I check in.”
That last part was a bit of a challenge against Elon.
Playing in exhibition games gave Dunham a taste of things to come, but nothing compares to the real thing.
“The intensity was a little higher,” he said. “Everybody was a little more tight. I felt it going into the game. The atmosphere was just incredible. There were some exciting plays that went on, and it just gives you chills.”