WASHINGTON – The players in the Butler locker room celebrated their latest stunning upset in the NCAA tournament by screaming, exchanging high fives and hugging each other.
Across the arena, Pittsburgh forward Nasir Robinson sat in front of his locker with his shoulders slumped. His voice was barely audible.
“I take the blame, man. I take the blame for the loss,” Robinson said, referring to the pivotal play in Butler’s 71-70 victory over the top-seeded Panthers (28-6) on Saturday night.
Matt Howard made one free throw with 0.8 seconds left to cap a wild final sequence that enabled No. 8 seed Butler (25-9) to advance to the Sweet 16 and deal Pittsburgh its latest painful exit from the NCAAs.
Each team had a chance to win it from the foul line in the last 2 seconds. After Butler’s Shelvin Mack inexplicably fouled Gilbert Brown near midcourt with 1.4 seconds left, Brown made the first try to tie it.
He missed the second, and Howard was fouled by Robinson while grabbing the rebound – a foul even more unnecessary than the one that preceded it.
“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and I know I shouldn’t have done that. It was a stupid play,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t the ref’s fault. It was my fault.”
When Howard grabbed the rebound of Brown’s miss, it appeared the game was headed to overtime because the Bulldogs were out of timeouts. Then Robinson stuck his arm into the fray.
“I was really surprised,” Howard said. “I felt his arm come across mine, so I just threw the ball to the rim.”
Howard made the first shot, then intentionally banged the second attempt off the rim.
And soon after that, Butler was rejoicing at midcourt.
Mack scored 30 for the Bulldogs, who used a string of upsets to reach the championship game last year.
Unlike Robinson, he got to laugh about a foul that never should have happened.
“It was the dumbest mistake of my life,” he acknowledged.