The men’s club basketball team traveled to Raleigh last weekend for National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association national tournament in hopes of bringing the first national title back to Butler since 1929.
Just like the NCAA tournament the road traveled by the club team wasn’t an easy one.
Last year, the team didn’t even have funds to go. This year, as a university-recognized club, it was able to play for a national title in what was a truly long weekend, including a 12-hour drive to and from the tournament and six games in three days.
On Friday, Butler faced UNC-Greensboro, winning 55-39. Saturday featured three games on the schedule, and the first tip-off was at 9:30 a.m.
“The games on Saturday were a lot tougher,” senior center James Pascascio said, “and no one wants to drive 10, 15 hours to get sent home on day two.”
In Saturday’s second game —the first game of the playoffs— Butler escaped elimination by James Madison with a 51-49 win. The Bulldogs handily defeated Delaware 55-40 later that night to qualify for the semifinals the following morning.
Butler made Sunday’s final by beating a big Cornell squad 40-29, and was set to face 2012 national runner-up Howard University.
Beginning with a back-and-forth start, Butler was eventually able to open up a gap. Howard was down by as many as 13 in the first half, and the Bulldogs took a 32-23 advantage into the locker room after 20 minutes of play.
In the second half, Howard fought tooth and nail to stay in it. With minutes left, Butler’s Pascascio pushed the Bulldogs’ lead back to seven with a lay-in that put Butler up 49-42.
“We were all thinking, ‘This is going to be the longest minute twenty-eight (seconds) of our lives,’” Pascascio said. “We were rolling. We were playing well.”
But Howard wasn’t done yet. Down seven with 1:28 left, it scored the game’s final eight points to take their lone lead of the second half with just eight seconds left.
“We knew it was going to be rough,” Pascascio said. “With playing five games, we were banged up, beat up. We were so close and wanted it so bad.”
Senior Louis Kamo attempted the desperation shot. Unable to connect, the national title slipped through Butler’s fingertips yet again, and Howard stole a 50-49 win.
“We just played kind of timidly down the end,” sixth-year senior forward Mike Werres said. “We played to not lose instead of playing to win.”
Despite the loss, the club team finished with a record of 30-3. Butler’s Kamo and Matt Troja were also both named Men’s Club All- Americans.
“Looking at it from the beginning of the year,” senior student-coach Brian Joe said, “the expectations weren’t that high. To be able to make it to the national tournament was something that was really rewarding.”