SALT LAKE CITY – Willie Veasley glanced up while running back on defense as his 3-pointer bounced high off the rim like so many of Butler’s shots had before.
He paused, though, as the ball drifted back, caromed off the backboard and fell through the net – a huge bounce that helped seal the Bulldogs’ 63-59 upset of top-seeded Syracuse on Thursday night in the NCAA West Regional semifinals.
Veasley followed his fortunate 3 with a tip-in as the Bulldogs scored 11 straight points and became the latest midmajor team to knock off a top seed.
Northern Iowa stunned top-ranked Kansas in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
Now, after reaching the regional finals for the first time in school history, Butler is one win from going home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
“I was headed down the court on defense because I figured it was going to go over the top of the backboard. But I looked back and it came down and went through,” Veasley said. “That was a H-O-R-S-E shot. I’ve never made a shot quite like that.”
Instead of Syracuse’s vaunted zone controlling the game, Butler’s pesky man-to-man was the difference as the Bulldogs scrapped through poor shooting to win their 23rd straight game.
“We said this word over and over in Indianapolis, and that word is ‘resolve.’ These guys have resolve,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s hard to measure, but they’ve got it.”
The Bulldogs (31-4) certainly did in the last 5 minutes, holding the Orange without a point from the time Syracuse went up by four with 5:23 left until a too-little-too-late layup with 35 seconds remaining.
Gordon Hayward scored 17 points and started celebrating while dribbling out the clock after the Bulldogs forced Syracuse into its 18th turnover. The Orange (30-5) made only three more field goals than turnovers.
“The game was a story of turnovers. They didn’t make turnovers,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They were really good with the basketball. We just had 18 turnovers and you can’t give away that many possessions.”