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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2010

Final Four homecoming: Butler will play in Indy after upsetting Kansas St.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALT LAKE CITY - Every day they walk into practice, they also walk onto a movie set - the one where they filmed the story about the little team that gets its big chance and lives out the unthinkable dream.

That's the story of Hoosiers.

That's also the story of Butler - the team that's reminding everyone that big schools with big money don't have a monopoly on everything in big-time sports.

Yes, the boys from Butler did it - getting 22 points from Gordon Hayward to defeat Kansas State 63-56 in the West Regional final yesterday and advance to the Final Four.

Next, the Bulldogs take their 24-game winning streak to downtown Indy. Though only five miles from the Butler campus, it's hard to think of many programs that have taken a longer, more unlikely road to get this close to a championship.

"It'd be just as cool if we moved it to Hinkle,"

Butler coach Brad Stevens said of his team's fieldhouse.

No such luck. Still, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (32-4) are writing their own underdog story, even if they can't really be called underdogs anymore.

Shelvin Mack scored 16 and Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley keyed an in-your-face defensive effort on K-State guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente to help Butler become the first school from a true, mid-major conference to make the Final Four since George Mason in 2006 - a trip that also ended in Indianapolis.

Trailing almost the entire game, No. 2 Kansas State (29-8) rallied to tie it at 54 with 3:09 remaining.

But Butler didn't fold, it only got better. The Bulldogs scored the next nine points to seal the game before Pullen's shot at the buzzer dropped - but offered no consolation.

Enrollment at Butler is in the 4,500 range, about 15 of whom have reminded everyone why college basketball captures America's heart this time every year.

But make no mistake - this is not some scrappy, overmatched team that needed a break, no Danny and the Miracles, or Villanova shooting 79 percent to knock off mighty Georgetown.

This is a team that stood toe-to-toe with Syracuse on one night, then Kansas State the next, shutting down two power teams from power conferences with legitimate stars of their own.

Pullen and Clemente didn't score a point for Kansas State until 15 seconds remained in the first half, and it was no matter of luck. Rather, it was the tough, in-your-face defense of Nored and Veasley that did it.

Clemente finished with 18 and Pullen 14, but they shot a combined 11 for 30.

"Defensively, they just try to hound everybody, try to stay in the lane, pack it in so there's nowhere to drive," Pullen said.

Led by Hayward's nine boards, Butler won that contest, too, 41-29.

Lucky, plucky teams simply don't win the way Butler did. Much like in its 63-59 victory over Syracuse, the Bulldogs held the lead in this one for most of the night, but fell behind briefly toward the end.

Clemente made a 3-pointer with 4:49 left to cap an 8-0 run and give K-State its only lead of the game 52-51. Teams like Butler are supposed to fold then, right?

Well, not quite.

Hayward got fouled going to the hole and made two free throws to take the lead back, and teammate Matt Howard made one more free throw to make it 54-52. Clemente dribbled for what seemed like forever for a layup to tie, and that was the last significant basket the Wildcats would make.

Coach Frank Martin wouldn't make excuses, but clearly that Xavier game took a lot out of the Wildcats - and it showed at the end.

"We looked tired. We were sluggish but I don't think it was as much about our wrongdoing as it was Butler's right-doing," he said.

With the score tied at 54, Butler took the lead for good on the next possession when Hayward - that rare NBA prospect playing at a mid-major - stretched his entire 6-foot-9 frame to not only collect a too-high, alley-oop pass from Nored, but collect himself and make the shot.

Being a mid-major, Stevens insists, is mainly about money and resources, not about 5-on-5 in a 40-minute game with nothing - or everything - on the line.

Stevens found the players who fit his style - players who like to work hard, don't back down from a challenge, and don't care that the big schools didn't come chasing after them.



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