By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the 3-pointers stopped dropping, Butler went to the foul line to finish off Florida Gulf Coast.
A.J. Graves scored 17 points and the 16th-ranked Bulldogs made 14 of 15 free throws in the final 6:21 Saturday night to finally take control and pull away to a 78-66 victory that was every bit as difficult as coach Brad Stephens thought it might be.
Gulf Coast visited Butler last season and put up a good fight before bowing, 79-65.
"I hated this game for a long time because I knew what was coming," Stephens said. "These guys do a great job. ... They're skilled, they're athletic. They don't play at home very often. It's right before Christmas. So we knew it was going to be a heck of a challenge."
Both teams went to the foul line 28 times, but the difference was Butler (11-1) made 26 while Gulf Coast (3-9) was only able to convert 17 of its attempts, including one of four during a stretch when the outcome still was in doubt.
Mike Green scored 16 points, and his 3-point play put the Bulldogs up 63-60 with just over six minutes to go. Butler didn't score from the field again until Drew Streicher dunked with 58 seconds remaining, then made six more free throws to put it away.
The Bulldogs were 8-of-22 from 3-point range, but didn't make any shots from behind the arc in the final 13 minutes. Gulf Coast offset the long-range production by going 7-for-16 to keep it close.
"It came down to the stretch, and they did a really good job of getting to the free throw line in the last five minutes," Gulf Coast coach Dave Balza said. "When a team makes 26 out of 28 free throws -- and it took every last one of them for them run away with it -- I think that's a pretty good effort."
Trailing 66-62, Gulf Coast saw its chances fade when Adam Liddell missed three of four free throws that could have put some pressure on Butler, which overcame a nine-point first-half deficit before struggling to finish off the pesky Eagles.
Casey Wohlleb led Gulf Coast with 24 points. Delvin Franklin scored 12 and Liddell finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Graves, Butler's leading scorer, was just 3-of-8 from the field but went 9-for-9 from the foul line.
Matt Howard and Julian Betko, who made his first four 3-point attempts, scored 12 apiece for Butler.
Butler, which has early season victories over Michigan, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Ohio State and Florida State after going 29-7 and reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament last winter, has won three straight after losing at Wright State on Dec. 8.
Playing its first home game in five weeks, Gulf Coast bolted to an 11-2 lead before Butler methodically whittled the deficit. The Bulldogs turned it around during a 15-4 run that put them ahead for the first time with five minutes left in the half.
Betko and Zach Hahn began the surge with long 3-pointers and Graves, scoreless for nearly 15 minutes, delivered a 3-point play that finally pulled Butler even at 23-all. Green made a pair of free throws to put Butler on top, but Gulf Coast weathered the burst and it was 33-33 at the half.
Even when it looked like the Bulldogs might break it open early in the second half, the Eagles stayed close by wiping out a 49-41 deficit and not allowing Butler to pull away for good until the barrage of free throws at the end.
Gulf Coast hadn't played in its campus arena since losing to Drexel in the home opener on Nov. 14. The Eagles shot 50 percent from the field (21-of-42) and limited Butler to 45 percent (22-of-49), while also doing a good job of protecting the ball against one of the better defensive teams in the nation.
"They played us really tough last year, so we're not surprised," Green said. "They executed their offense well, and we just didn't make enough stops to keep them from keeping it close."