Butler advances to Horizon final

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Matt Howard lived up to his title as the Horizon League’s player of the year Saturday night.

No. 22 Butler needed every one of Howard’s 24 points and six rebounds, and got 11 points off the bench from Zach Hahn to hold off Wright State 62-57 in the conference tournament semifinals.

With the win, the Bulldogs (26-4) tied Detroit’s league record with 26 tournament wins and have a chance to match the league record of ex-member Xavier on Tuesday night — by winning a sixth tournament title.

The Horizon League’s regular-season champion and top seed hosts either Wisconsin-Green Bay or Cleveland State, who played in the second semifinal game Saturday night.

Wright State (20-13), which upset Butler two years ago in the championship game, was led by Cory Cooperwood with 11 points and Will Graham with 10 but managed only one point in the final 70 seconds after closing to 59-56.

N’Gai Evans and Todd Brown both missed potentially tying 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds for the Raiders, and Butler closed it out at the free-throw line.

Butler may have survived another late scare, too.

With 10.6 seconds left, starting guard Shelvin Mack went down with what appeared to be a leg injury. The freshmen needed help to get to the locker room, but coach Brad Stevens said Mack had leg cramps and was getting intravenous fluids after the game.

The Bulldogs led most of the night after breaking to a 12-3 lead, but it wasn’t easy.

Wright State rallied, twice taking the lead in the first half, and went to halftime trailing 32-28. The Raiders pulled within 39-38 with 16:56 left in the game when Todd Brown hit a 17-footer.

Then came one of Butler’s trademark runs.

Howard started the 14-4 flurry with a 4-foot baby hook, Wright State had three straight turnovers during the stretch and Mack finished it with a 3-pointer from the right wing to give Butler a 53-42 lead with 7:56 left.

Wright State rallied quickly, with Troy Tabler hitting a 3 and Cooperwood completing a three-point play to make it 53-48. Still, the Raiders couldn’t get closer than five until Evans hit a 3 from the top of the key with 1:10 to go to make it 59-56.

Gordon Hayward, Mack and Howard then combined to hit 4-of-6 free throws for Butler.

2008, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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