Story by Steven Peek
Video by Elyssa Garfinkle
During Butler’s Sweet 16 game against No. 4-seed Wisconsin, former Butler men’s basketball player LaVall Jordan tweeted, “THE GAME HONORS TOUGHNESS.”
No. 5 seed Butler (26-9) played with toughness throughout the game and defeated the Badgers (25-9), 61-54, making the Bulldogs the only team from the 2010 Final Four still in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
Butler is now on a 12-game winning streak and is 8-1 in its last nine NCAA tournament games.
The Bulldogs will face the No.2-seeded Florida Gators in the Elite 8 Saturday in New Orleans.
A late second-half comeback had Bulldog fans thinking that the game might have been like the previous two during this NCAA tournament, but a 3-pointer by junior guard Shelvin Mack broke a Butler scoring draught and made the score 55-49 with just less than a minute to play.
“I was disappointed in the way we were playing at the time, but now, I could care less,” head coach Brad Stevens said.
Freshman forward Khyle Marshall, who finished the game with seven points and seven rebounds, said that Butler “got caught taking its foot off the pedal and was too focused on running time off the clock.”
“We weren’t moving the ball well and weren’t strong with it in our hands,” senior forward Matt Howard said.
Stevens refocused them, and an offensive rebound by Howard with 29 seconds remaining all but sealed the win for the Bulldogs.
Junior guard Shelvin Mack called Howard’s offensive rebound “a crucial play in the game.”
“Matt plays for his team and sacrifices his body,” Mack said.
Wisconsin junior guard Jordan Taylor agreed.
“They’re scrappy and relentless,” he said. “They’re tough kids.”
Taylor led all scorers with 22 points, but it took him 19 shots to get there and he was 3-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc.
Taylor, a First-Team All-Big Ten player averaging 7.7 assists per game this season, had two assists against the Bulldogs.
Assists were hard to come by for the Badgers, who shot 30.4 percent from the field and just 27.3 percent in the second half.
Senior forward Jon Leuer, also a First-Team All-Big Ten player, normally averages 18.7 points per game. He scored three against the Bulldogs, who held him to 1-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from behind the arc.
The three-point game ended Leuer’s streak of 40 consecutive games of double-digit scoring.
Butler’s team defense was suffocating, and the speed of senior guard Shawn Vanzant certainly helped. Vanzant had two steals and five other Bulldogs had at least one in the game.
Vanzant was proficient on the offensive end as well, scoring 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Mack had 13 points and sophomore center Andrew Smith had eight before having his second-half minutes limited by a slight left ankle sprain.
Howard was the blue ribbon award-winner, though. He scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and even managed to grab two steals, while fouling only once.
“Matt’s a guy who, when it’s a one-and-done situation, is a fighter and winner,” Stevens said. “His play has been special.”
The Bulldogs will need special play against the Gators, who defeated the No. 3 BYU Cougars before Butler took the court.
“It’s going to be tough Saturday to get a win against a team and a program we know well,” Stevens said. “But we’re not playing a program—we’re playing a team for 40 minutes, and that’s it.”