Nine different Ball State players scored, led by junior guard Jesse Berry with 12 points. Junior forward Majok Majok added nine points and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds for a Cardinals team (2-4) that held a three-point lead early in the second half at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith led Butler (5-2) in scoring with 15 and 12 points, respectively. Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones sparked the Bulldogs on both ends of the floor with a combined 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Ball State junior forward Chris Bond blanketed Clarke, Butler's leading scorer, for much of the afternoon. The Arkansas transfer entered the game shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, but made just 3-of-12 against the Cardinals.
Ball State held Butler to a season low 17.4 percent (4-of-23) from the 3-point line, but the Cardinals managed only 18.2 percent (2-of-11) from deep.
"I was proud of the effort our guys played with out there today," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "I thought we showed what we were capable of. That's a really good team we played. There's a reason they beat North Carolina and Marquette."
After falling behind by nine points in the first half, Ball State closed on an 11-2 run and tied the game, 33-33, at the halftime buzzer on a basket from Majok in the lane. The Cardinals then scored the first three points of the second half to grab a 36-33 lead.
But Butler responded with a run of its own, scoring 21 of the game's next 23 points to take control. Defensively, the Bulldogs defenders began to cut off the driving lanes that Ball State used to generate offense in the first 20 minutes.
Ball State finished the game with 19 turnovers, while Butler turned the ball over just five times. Twelve of the Cardinals' turnovers came in the second half.
"That's where we have to get better as a team, making that extra pass," Taylor said. "I thought we did more of that in the first half; we were able to penetrate and get a kick and get a secondary drive. Against a good defense like Butler's, they're going to make adjustments, and they really closed the paint down on us."
Bond scored eight points, all in the first half, while junior forward Matt Kamieniecki snagged eight boards off the bench and also chipped in five points. Freshman guard Marcus Posley scored seven points for the Cardinals off the bench.
Ball State will now return home to Muncie to continue non-conference play against Holy Cross (Ind.) Wednesday at Worthen Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.