NCAA Tournament: Butler 74, Florida 71
By Greg Beacham
NEW ORLEANS ó Of course Butler erased a late deficit. Of course the Bulldogs hit a clutch 3-pointer late in overtime. Of course theyíre going back to the Final Four.
This is the Butler Way.
Shelvin Mack scored 27 points, including five in overtime, and Butler reached the Final Four for the second year in a row with a 74-71 victory over Florida on Saturday.
ěThis is a huge deal,î said Zach Hahn, whose two 3-pointers helped Butler stay close in the first half. ěI donít know that any other mid-major has ever done this. Itís hardly happened once, let alone twice. Itís an unbelievable feeling.î
Butler, the Horizon League champ, has vanquished three higher seeds from major conferences ó top-seeded Pittsburgh, fourth-seeded Wisconsin and now second-seeded Florida ó in succession.
Those big wins came after Howard tipped in a winner in the final seconds against Old Dominion.
This game had another frantic finish.
ěWe just kind of stayed together, stayed the course, figured it out, and just played resiliently,î Butler coach Brad Stevens. ěIím incredibly proud of these guys. They carried their coach in a big way. … Our players did a great job, and (they are) just a special group. Weíre really lucky that theyíre Butler Bulldogs.î
Matt Howard scored 14 and Khyle Marshall added 10 for the Bulldogs (27-9), who showed again they simply wonít give in, climbing out of an 11-point hole in the last 9:25 of the second half.
Mack was playing through pain after rolling his left ankle in the first half and needed a small bandage on his forehead in the second half. He could not recall what happened to his head, only that it was bleeding when he came to the sideline.
That didnít stop him from draining a crucial 3-pointer with 1:21 left in overtime to give Butler the lead for good at 72-70. He also had enough vigor left during the net-cutting ritual to do a mocking Gator chomp with his arms from atop a ladder.
ěItís a physical game. Thatís what the NCAA tournament is all about,î Mack said. ěYou wouldnít want it any other way.î
Kenny Boynton missed a long 3 that could have given Florida (29-8) the lead with a little under 20 seconds left. Alex Tyus appeared to have the offensive rebound, but Howard tied him up and the possession arrow favored Butler.
Florida had to foul Mack with 10.6 seconds to go, and he hit both shots for the final margin before Erving Walker missed a 3 to tie in the final seconds.
ěCongratulations to Butler,î Florida coach Billy Donovan said. ěThey had great, great heart tonight. … I knew they had that, you know, all year long.î
Before reaching the round of eight this year, Florida hadnít won an NCAA tournament game since winning its second straight national title in 2007.
Florida ended Butlerís season twice before in the NCAA tournament, once in 2000 in the first round and again in 2007 in the round of 16.
The Bulldogs hadnít forgotten.
Butler players got motivational text messages from Bulldogs past concerning their latest matchup with the resurgent Gators.
In the locker room after the game, players said they hoped they made the Butler community proud. Judging by video of celebrating fans back in Indianapolis being passed around the locker room on a cell phone, they had.
Last year, Butler was able to play in front of those fans at the Final Four in Indianapolis, where about 30,000 fans attended their open practice.
Now it seems as though the Bulldogs win the crowd wherever they play, although Stevens suspects the support they had at last seasonís Final Four in their hometown will be hard to top.
ěNothing will be like Indy. Indy was crazy,î Stevens said. ěIf thereís 30,000 people (at open practice) theyíre going to try to be getting whoever elseís autographs are there in Houston. Itís not going to be for our guys. … But trust me, we will play anywhere they send us and we are thrilled to go to Houston.î
Stevens knows it wonít be the same this time.
Vernon Macklin scored a career-high 25 points for Florida, while Boynton finished with 17 points and Tyus had his second-straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.