NEW ORLEANS – Of course Butler erased a late deficit. Of course the Bulldogs hit a clutch 3-pointer late in overtime. Of course they’re 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.
“This is a huge deal,” said Zach Hahn, whose two 3-pointers helped Butler stay close in the first half. “I don’t know that any other midmajor has ever done this. It’s hardly happened once, let alone twice. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Butler, the Horizon League champ, has vanquished three higher seeds from major conferences – top-seeded Pittsburgh, fourth-seeded Wisconsin and second-seeded Florida – 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.
“We just kind of stayed together, stayed the course, figured it out, and just played resiliently,” Butler coach Brad Stevens. “I’m 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. We’re really lucky that they’re Butler Bulldogs.”
Matt Howard scored 14 and Khyle Marshall added 10 for the Bulldogs (27-9), who showed again they simply won’t 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 didn’t stop him from draining a crucial 3-pointer with 1:21 left in overtime to give Butler the lead for good at 72-70.
“It’s a physical game. That’s what the NCAA tournament is all about,” Mack said. “You wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Kenny Boynton missed a long 3 that could have given Florida (29-8) the lead with a little less than 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.
“Congratulations to Butler,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “They had great, great heart tonight. … I knew they had that, you know, all year long.”
Before reaching the round of eight this year, Florida hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since winning its second straight national title in 2007.
The Gators missed the tournament entirely in 2008 and 2009, before returning last year and being knocked out by BYU in the first round.
Florida ended Butler’s season twice before in the NCAA tournament, once in 2000 in the first round and again in 2007 in the round of 16.
Last year, Butler played 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 season’s Final Four in their hometown will be hard to top.
“Nothing will be like Indy. Indy was crazy,” Stevens said. “If there’s 30,000 people (at open practice) they’re going to try to be getting whoever else’s autographs are there in Houston. It’s 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.”
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