What can the Butler men’s basketball team do with 3.5 seconds and the ball in the opposition’s possession?
Apparently, win a nationally televised game over a Top 10 team at the buzzer.
Sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones stole an Gonzaga inbound pass near midcourt and completed a layup with one tenth of a second remaining to give the No. 13 Butler Bulldogs a stunning 64-63 win over the No. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The basket sent what was an often-raucous Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd into a full-on frenzy that included a storming of the court.
“I never did in my life,” Jones said of hitting a buzzer-beating shot.
Butler (16-2, 3-0) was sure glad he chose this game for that career first.
Down 63-62 with just less than five seconds remaining and possession of the ball, sophomore guard Alex Barlow traveled on the inbound pass, setting up the dramatic game-winning play.
“(Gonzaga) made a great play running at (Barlow), forced him to walk,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “At that point, you’re still in the game because, no matter what, you’re gonna get a shot even if they make two free throws.
“It’s not like it’s complete doomsday.”
It is that mentality that has helped lead Butler to its ever-growing list of shocking victories, and it earned them one more on this evening in Indianapolis.
Gonzaga junior guard David Stockton attempted to lob an inbound pass over Butler junior forward Khyle Marshall to a teammate, but the ball ended up in the hands of Jones instead.
“I heard the (Gonzaga) coach tell Olynyk to get the lob, so I just played behind him and stole it,” Jones said. “I looked at the clock and I think it was four seconds, so I knew I could get it down (the court).
“Then I sprinted and I see Olynyk coming up to me and I floated it over him.”
It was a thrilling finish to a game that saw both sets of Bulldogs grind out every possession like it might be their last.
The final 1:26 of the contest saw five lead changes, each resulting in a one-point advantage.
Early on, Butler had a difficult time obtaining any sort of lead.
Gonzaga (17-2) came out firing on all cylinders, led by a career night from junior center Sam Dower.
Butler went up 3-2 minutes in on a 3-pointer by Barlow. From there, Gonzaga went on an 11-1 run to grab a 13-4 advantage.
Dower had four points during the run and went on to score 16 total in the first 20 minutes. He was averaging 7.2 points per contest coming in.
“(Butler defenders) jump the guards, and we were able to throw it back to (Dower),” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He’s a very good face up shooter. It’s kind of his wheelhouse.”
Butler started connecting on its 3-point attempts later in the half to turn the tide.
Freshman guard Kellen Dunham drained his first 3-point shot a little more than six minutes in to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 13-7.
With about 11 minutes remaining in the opening 20, Dunham hit another 3-pointer, which was closely followed by senior guard Chase Stigall’s first triple of the evening.
“I just tried to contribute as much as I could,” Dunham said. “(My teammates) did a great job of giving me the ball when I needed it.”
Dunham’s third 3-pointer of the half pushed Butler out to a 22-20 lead with 7:52 to go in the half.
More back-and-forth action followed, and Gonzaga would eventually take a 33-32 advantage into the locker room.
“You saw it, it was a pretty even game,” Few said. “I thought, in the first half, they shot the ball really well from three.”
Butler connected on seven of 13 3-point attempts in the first 20 minutes, but was unable to replicate that success in the second half.
Stevens acknowledged that replacing injured senior guard Rotnei Clarke’s offense through the entire game was not possible. Clarke missed his second consecutive game following a neck injury at Dayton last Saturday.
“No offense to anybody on our team, but nobody on our team does exactly what Rotnei does,” Stevens said. “You have to scheme a little differently, and I thought we really did a pretty good job of doing that all game.”
The second half saw the hard-nosed play continue, as easy points were at a bare minimum.
Both teams scraped together 14 points in the paint in the final 20 minutes.
Butler took a quick four-point lead with a layup by Jones and a 3-pointer by Dunham, the team’s only long-distance field goal in the second half.
The largest lead for the remainder of the contest was a five-point cushion for Butler at 55-50 with 4:31 to play.
A predominantly pro-Butler crowd sat on the edge of its collective seat for every play in the game. In the final two minutes, however, it seemed Hinkle might be lifted off its foundation.
With Butler leading 59-58, Gonzaga senior forward Elias Harris made a layup to give his squad a one-point advantage with 1:26 remaining.
Jones responded with a layup of his own to push Butler back out in front, but Harris banked a shot in off the glass on Gonzaga’s next possession to give the Zags a 61-60 lead.
Not to be outdone, Barlow kissed a shot off the glass and in with 24 seconds left to put Butler ahead 62-61.
Gonzaga was unable to break down the Butler defense on its next possession, but junior forward Kelly Olynyk managed to draw a foul in the paint with 4.5 seconds left.
He sank two free throws, and the Zags lead 63-62 to set up the final, nail-biting sequence.
Butler had chances to add breathing room through free throw shooting, but was often unable to do so. Butler finished the game 12 of 23 from the charity stripe, as no player who went to the line shot 100 percent.
Jones recorded a game-high 20 points with five rebounds and four assists. Dunham was the only other Butler player in double figures with 14 points.
Senior center Andrew Smith led Butler with seven rebounds while doing his best to limit Olynyk and Harris down low.
Harris and Dower both tallied 20 points, and Olynyk dropped 14 for Gonzaga. Harris and Olynyk both recorded seven rebounds as well.
The game was the first stop for ESPN’s College GameDay. Multiple ESPN personalities arrive on a custom-made bus to analyze and cover the game, and the crew taped a show early Saturday morning on the Hinkle floor.
During that show, Butler student Kevin Schwartz hit a half-court shot to win $18,000.
“It was great,” Stevens said of the experience. “We hope we might earn our way back sometime on GameDay.”
Butler will head back into Atlantic 10 Conference play Wednesday in a road game against La Salle. Stevens said Clarke is “unlikely” to play in that game.
Stevens said Butler cannot afford to focus on the victory over Gonzaga for too long with conference play resuming this week.
“I think the biggest thing is we’ve got to move on from here,” Stevens said. “We don’t have time to bask in anything.”