The Butler Bulldogs rode sophomore Gordon Hayward and a strong supporting cast on a magical drive to the NCAA title game last season, coming up a basket short against Duke.
Hayward is gone, on to the NBA, but the remaining of the Bulldogs showed Saturday night the magic can still be summoned.
At least in stretches. And that’s all the Bulldogs needed to roll over Washington State, 84-68 in the finals of the Diamond Head Classic tournament before 6,367 at the Stan Sheriff Center.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” said Washington State coach Ken Bone of the 9-4 Bulldogs. “I think they have four seniors and a few juniors and those kids have played in this system a long time, they know the system well. And it’s very, very difficult to guard.”
Especially in one stretch that earned the Bulldogs the tournament title.
Tied at 38 , WSU had the ball to end the first half, holding a chance to take the final shot. Bone took a timeout with 19.4 seconds left and WSU inbounded the ball under its basket.
It came in to Klay Thompson, who finished with a game-high 31 points and a tournament-record 79 in the three games. But on this possession Thompson, open in the left corner, couldn’t hit the 3-pointer, one of the six he missed in 10 attempts.
Butler controlled the rebound, set up a play and Shelvin Mack turned the corner off a screen to score as the half ended.
“I don’t think that cost us the game,” Bone said, “but it gives them a little momentum going into halftime.”
That momentum carried over into the second half, with Ronald Nored coming off a ball screen, scoring and getting to the line for a 3-point play on Butler’s first possession.
“There were a couple times on screens when we did not get through the screen quick enough,” Bone said. “You’ve really got to fight to get through their screens quickly to be able to have a chance to contest their shots.”
Though Marcus Capers answered with a jumper on the other end, the Bulldogs led 43-40 with 19 minutes, 23 seconds left.
And just 5:27 later, they led 58-40. The title was theirs.
The 15-0 run was started by a Matt Howard 3-pointer – the 6-foot-8 senior post was the tournament MVP after scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the title game – and fueled by the shooting of senior guard Zach Hahn, who had not hit a shot in the tournament, but made 4 of 9, including three 3-pointers, en route to 14 points.
“What hurt us was that first 6, 7 minutes of the second half,” Bone said after the Cougars finished nonconference play with a 10-2 record. “That was a turning point.”
The Bulldogs ran their motion offense to near perfection in the second half, shooting 53.8 percent to finish 28 of 56 for the game. They are the first team to hit half their shots against WSU this season, which was holding opponents to 35.7 percent coming in.
“I thought they played with more energy than us,” Bone said. “That’s what was disappointing.”
Sophomore center Andrew Smith scored a season-high 14 points, not missing in five attempts from the field.
Butler was even deadly from beyond the arc, hitting 11 of 27 (40.7 percent) as Mack, Hahn and Chase Stigall all had three. The Cougars were holding their opponents to 25.7 percent beyond the arc coming into the game.
After featuring balanced scoring against Baylor in the semifinals two nights previously, the Cougars had no one in double figures other than Thompson, who hit 10 of 18 shots.
During Butler’s game-deciding run, the Cougars missed seven consecutive shots – three inside by DeAngelo Casto – and turned the ball over twice. When Faisal Aden finally scored on a drive with 13:43 left, WSU had gone almost 6 minutes without scoring.
After trailing by as many as 19 (61-42) WSU crawled back within 10 once at 60-50 after Reggie Moore hit one of two free throws – the Cougars were 13 of 18 from the line, Butler 17 of 24. But Hahn answered by burying an open 3 and WSU never got closer than 13 again.
Now Washington State heads to Southern California, where they will open Pac-10 play Wednesday at UCLA.
“We’re 10-2, we’ve played a good schedule, some good teams,” Bone said. “I think we’re well prepared for Pac-10 play.”
Florida State 68, (15) Baylor 61: Derwin Kitchen scored 19 points and Chris Singleton added 17 and 10 rebounds as the Seminoles (11-3) defeated the Bears (8-3) in the third-place game.
Bernard James had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Seminoles, who recorded their first win over a ranked team this season.
LaceDarius Dunn led Baylor with 23 points but missed two key free throws down the stretch.
Hawaii 68, Mississippi State 57: Zane Johnson had 19 points and eight rebounds to lead the Warriors (9-3) over the Bulldogs in the fifth-place game.
It was the first game for Missippi State since two players were suspended for fighting in the stands on Thursday.
San Diego 67, Utah 64: Devin Ginty made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 25 seconds and the Toreros (3-10) held on to defeat the Utes (7-6) in the seventh-place game.
The Toreros, who picked up their first win over a Division I opponent, were led by Jordan Mackie’s 14 points. Ginty added 13 and Darian Norris 12.