Perhaps it's fitting that the Butler Bulldogs eliminated the Michigan State Spartans 52-50 in last year's Final Four.
Not only was it a close game, but the 2010 State team seems to have
passed that "just survive and advance no matter what" zeitgeist on to
BU. MSU barely won all their games en route to reaching that Final Four
in Indianapolis, the hometown of Butler. And the Bulldogs have punched
their ticket to Houston in 2011, much the same way. Exempting the blowout win over the Wisconsin Badgers, the Bulldogs have won their other three tourney games by a combined six points.
The Florida Gators had eliminated Butler in two of the Bulldogs' previous seven visits to the NCAA Tournament. So Saturday's 74-71 overtime thriller Elite Eight game was a measure of revenge.
The Bulldogs now have the fifth-highest single season win total in
school history with 26 and the third-highest number under head coach Brad Stevens.
Butler has won at least 26 games in each of the past five seasons
(including four under Stevens) and ranks second behind Kansas in all of college basketball
with a 144-31 record over that five-year period. What was especially
impressive about this game was the fact they survived despite a poor
shooting game (27% from three, 40% overall) But of course, they limited
Florida too, as the Gators shot just 20% behind the arc.
Like I said in both my podcast and my game preview, freshman Khyle Marshall,
a recruit who is ranked much higher than your usual Butler recruit
would be KEY for Butler. He was a big spark off the bench with 10 points
and seven rebounds. Shelvin Mack lead the way with 27 points.
"I think you come into the season, and with the success that we had
last year, you do your best to strive for that again. And there were
some shortcomings early. Then we played well in December, and then
there were some shortcomings again in January," Ronald Nored said.
"I think our team did a great job of just staying together through
everything. Shel and I talked a lot about just how sad you are -- none
of us have lost three games before in a row, but our team did a heck of
a job just staying together.
Getting to this point isn't easy and staying together isn't easy when
everything is going wrong. And that was the thing that I think has
gotten us to this point."
Mack described the dings, bumps and bruises he picked up in this "grindy" game.
I really don't know what happened with my forehead. I just walked
back and I was bleeding. But early in the game I twisted my ankle on a
play trying to get to the rim. Yeah, it's a physical game. That's what
the NCAA Tournament is about. You wouldn't want it any other way. I
think the refs did a great job of letting us play each and every play.
All the guys second it to be a hard-fought, physical game.
The Bulldogs improved to 16-3 in the month of March in four seasons
under Stevens. They kept winning. With "the Butler Way," and sometimes
that entails coming back from double digit deficits in the second half.
"When we were down nine, there was a media
time-out, and we just said, score, stop, score, and the game will get a
lot tighter. And we did score. Hopkins made the pass to Howard, we
scored, we went down and got a stop, Mack made the pass to Hopkins, we
hit a three. Now all of a sudden it went from nine to four. Now all of a
sudden you've got a ball game and momentum late, and that's a really
good thing," Stevens said.
Filed under: College Basketball
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