Bulldogs advance to Final Four with OT win over Florida
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 his team stay close in the first half. “I don’t know that any other mid-major has ever done this. It’s hardly happened once, let alone twice. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Butler, the Horizon League champ who lost to Youngstown State earlier this season, has vanquished three higher seeds from major conferences — top-seeded Pittsburgh, fourth-seeded Wisconsin and now 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’s 3-pointer with 1:21 left in overtime gave Butler the lead for good at 72-70.
Kenny Boynton missed a long 3 that could have given Florida (29-8) the lead with a little under 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.
“Congratulations to Butler,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “You know, they had great, great heart tonight. ... I knew they had that, you know, all year long.”
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.
Butler players got motivation text messages from Bulldogs past concerning their latest matchup with the resurgent Gators.
In the locker room after the game, players said they hoped they made the Butler community proud. Judging by video of celebrating fans back in Indianapolis being passed around the locker room on a cell phone, they had.
Vernon Macklin scored a career-high 25 points for Florida, while Boynton finished with 17 points and Tyus had his second-straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Butler had to overcome Florida’s size advantage and a number of its own mistakes.
In regulation, the Bulldogs made 10 of 20 free throws and shot 39.6 percent (21 of 53), including 8 of 30 from 3-point range. Yet they somehow found a way to survive to overtime, when they hit all seven foul shots and three of their eight field goals.
Now the Bulldogs are one win away from a second straight appearance in the national championship game.
“They’re tough,” said Florida forward Chandler Parsons, who had a disappointing five points on 2 of 9 shooting. “They’re physical. They have all the characteristics of a good team. You know, it’s not their first time here. They were in this situation last year, so I think their experience helped them and I think they just came up with big plays when the team needed it.”