The No. 8 seed Butler men’s basketball team will play No. 1 seed Pittsburgh tomorrow night in the third round of the NCAA tournament after a 60-58 victory over No. 9 seed Old Dominion yesterday.
But the Bulldogs (24-9) advancing to the third round and tallying a 10th consecutive win might not have happened, if senior forward Matt Howard hadn’t channeled some Irish luck on St. Patrick’s Day.
While many were searching for a pot of gold at the other end of a rainbow, Howard found a missed tip-in on the other side of the basket and laid it in as time expired.
“Matt did what Matt does, and that is win games for Butler,” Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs’ head coach, said after the game.
Howard gave credit to sophomore center Andrew Smith, who was able to tip a heave from senior guard Shawn Vanzant off the backboard and in Howard’s direction.
“My guy went with [Smith] on that jump,” Howard said, “And it’s pretty easy when it’s just you and the ball and the rim.”
Howard finished with 15 points and eight rebounds—right around his season averages of 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Things looked gloomy for Butler early in the second half. Howard was called for his third foul with 16:36 remaining, and Smith was called for his fourth 40 seconds later.
But up stepped junior forward Garrett Butcher, who finished with six points (2-3 FG, 2-2 FT) and six rebounds. While Smith was being protected on the bench, Butcher’s sporadic plays of proper positioning and hustle kept the Bulldogs in the game and, sometimes, in the lead.
And speaking of leads, there were 21 lead changes in the game.
Junior guard Shelvin Mack, Smith and Vanzant battled to keep the Bulldogs on the right side of those lead changes.
Mack tied Howard’s 15 in the game, going 5-of-14 from the field on three 3-pointers, and also led the team in assists with five.
Smith efficiently scored 11 on 5-of-9 shooting to go along with six rebounds. Vanzant finished with eight points, two rebounds and one assist.
Redshirt senior forward Frank Hassell of Old Dominion (27-7) was mostly responsible for ODU re-taking the lead. In a back-and-forth game, he was the Monarchs’ go-to-guy.
Hassell led all scorers with 20 points, getting all of those from low in the paint or at the free throw line.
Butler had a six-point lead with 2:35 remaining, but that lead disappeared during the next two minutes. ODU redshirt junior forward Kent Bazemore hit a pair of free throws with 32 seconds remaining to tie the game at 58.
But having a game’s final possession is a clear advantage, as proven by other games’ winners (No. 7 seed Temple, No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 7 seed UCLA) that same day.
The rest is history—Vanzant drives but somehow throws the ball up as he goes to the floor, Smith tips it up off the backboard, and Howard swoops in to clinch the win.
“Shock,” Hassell said when asked what he felt during the buzzer beater. “I was praying to God that the red light had come on [before Howard’s shot]. When they showed the replay, the shock just turned to hurt.”
Surprising to most was Butler’s rebounding advantage when all was said and done.
The Monarchs entered the game as the nation’s leader in rebounding differential. But the Bulldogs outrebounded their opponent 32-39 overall and 18-13 on the offensive glass—perhaps none more important than Howard’s as the final seconds ticked away.
“That was two really good teams playing a really hard-fought game,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s what you envision the eight-nine game to be in an ideal world. Both teams came out shooting the basketball well and both teams, kind of unusually, found their defensive rhythm later in the game.
“We had the last possession and we were fortunate to win.”
Butler’s game versus Pittsburgh tips at 7:05 p.m. Eastern.