Why does Butler still not get the respect they deserve?
The Bulldogs have made it to the NCAA tournament in each of the past four years. They have won at least one game in three of their past four appearances and shocked the world by advancing to the national championship game last year.
You would think their NCAA tournament resume would grant them respect in the college basketball community and elevate them into a higher level of prestige; however Butler got the usual treatment this year.
The Bulldogs were given an eight seed in this year’s tournament after winning their conference tournament in the Horizon league. Senior forward Matt Howard, who averaged almost 17 points and eight rebounds per game this year, was responsible for leading Butler to this success.
Butler was pit against ninth-seeded Old Dominion University in the first round. Despite their recent history of success, the Bulldogs were a popular pick for an upset. However, Howard and company ensured that the Bulldogs would not go quietly.
In the second of the tournament’s first-round games on Thursday, Butler and Old Dominion gave the country one of the event’s most exciting games yet. In a great, back-and-forth game, Butler won on a buzzer beater after Howard put back a missed shot by sophomore center Andrew Smith in the closing seconds of regulation.
"I had no doubt that we were going to win the game," Howard said. "I didn't think we were going to win it that way, but when you've been in those situations, been in those kind of battles and close games, you have confidence that you're going to be able to pull it out."
The Bulldogs had the ball with the score tied and 32 seconds left. They seemingly ran a play for senior guard Shawn Vanzant, but after Vanzant drove right and nothing was there, he threw the ball up towards the front of the net. Smith made a great play by trying to tip the ball in, but it went off the backboard and right into the hands of Howard. Howard finished the play just milliseconds before time expired to give Butler the first-round win.
"A lot of credit has got to go to Andrew, who made a great play to keep it alive," Howard said. "I tried to get it up as quickly as possible, and fortunately we had just enough time."
Howard finished the game with 15 points and five rebounds. But most importantly, he got the two points that counted at the end.
The Bulldogs followed up their exciting game on Thursday with one of the most dramatic and controversial endings to a game in NCAA tournament history.
Butler’s second-round matchup was against number-one seeded Pittsburgh. Butler led for most of the game and had an eight-point lead at half, but the tough-minded Panthers battled back. A pair of Pittsburgh free throws, followed by a Smith free throw with under two minutes left to play gave the Panthers a one-point lead heading into the final minute.
After a Pittsburgh turnover, Butler called a timeout with seven seconds left to set up what was sure to be the final play of the game. Smith drove into the lane and made a layup to give Butler a one-point lead with just three seconds left. The game was over.
Correction: the game was far from over.
On the following inbound play, Pitt got the ball to senior forward Gilbert Brown, who, in every normal situation, would get the ball down court as quickly as possible and take a desperation three-pointer before time expired. And that’s what Brown tried to do, until Bulldogs senior guard Shelvin Mack inexplicably interfered with Brown’s path to the basket and was called for an unbelievable blocking foul with one second left in the game.
Brown went to the line and made his first shot to tie the game. But Brown missed the second, and as Howard went to grab the rebound, Pitt junior forward Nasir Robinson intertwined his arms in Howard’s and was called for a foul with .07 seconds left.
"I was really surprised," Howard said. "I felt his arm come across mine, so I just threw the ball to the rim."
Mack’s all-time stupid foul was topped by an even worse one.
Howard went to the line and made two free throws, Pitt’s last shot fell well short of the basket, and Butler had upset the number-one seeded Pittsburgh in a most climactic fashion.
"You win two games by three points, it's going to be pretty crazy," Howard said
So the Bulldogs have won another two games in the NCAA tournament with Howard leading the way, averaging over 15 points and five rebounds per game. Maybe, if the Bulldogs can make another Cinderella run to the final four, they will finally get the respect they deserve.