Loyola head coach Jim Whitesell swore he saw the ball going in. The shooter, Terrance Hill, thought it was good. Jordan Hicks even got a second opportunity to tip it in. But the ball didn't want to cooperate with the Ramblers. It bounced harmlessly off the rim twice and fell to the ground leaving Butler with a 48-47 victory at the Gentile Center on Thursday.
"It looked good to me," Whitesell said.
"I thought Hicks' tip was in too. ... If that tip went in I'm the happiest man in Chicago," he continued.
Hill and his teammates did everything they could possibly do, except make the final shot. They hung with the 20th-ranked team in the country and the Horizon League's best squad through every tough moment. The Ramblers did what they had to do to win. They played tenacious defense, they got to the free throw line, they didn't let Butler get out in transition and they hit the glass hard. And through all that work, Loyola earned its chance.
But the shot didn't want to go in tonight. Hill had just hit a huge three, but this one fell off the rim.
Hill finished with 12 points and 8 boards. Walt Gibler scored 14 points and grabbed 9 boards. Andy Polka grabbed 13.
Shooting the ball was a different story. The Ramblers shot 34% from the field in the game and just 6-25 (24%) in the second half. Butler played tenacious post defense that forced 17 Loyola turnovers and never let the Ramblers get into a rhythm.
Loyola scored 23 points off the bench compared to just 8 for Butler. The Ramblers also scored 14 second-chance points thanks to 42 rebounds overall and 16 offensive boards.
The Bulldogs were led by Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. Both players scored 12 points. When Butler needed a big basket they went to their precocious sophomore forward. Hayward's three-point basket with 6:47 remaining was the final field goal the Bulldogs were able to muster and gave the Bulldogs a 46-43 lead.
Loyola battled back over the next 6 minutes to tie the game at 47 on Hill's tap-out three from way beyond the arc. After Polka's tip was caught and Hill's prayer answered, 4,372 fans were stunned. But it ended on a free throw by Willie Veasley. One single point standing between victory and defeat.