INDIANAPOLIS -- We're halfway through what's thus far been an up-and-down game -- a torrid start followed by a major drought in the closing stretches. Fittingly enough, we're tied at 28. Here's some instant reaction and a look ahead to the second half:
HOW THE HALF WAS WON: Butler's guards couldn't contain Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers. The Bulldogs have been shutting down great guards throughout the tournament, holding Syracuse's Andy Rautins and Kansas State's Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente to minimal contributions in low-scoring games. Not so in the first half tonight. Lucious and Summers were able to find open looks, and for much of the half, they knocked them down.
TURNING POINT: With two minutes left in the first half, it looked like Butler was starting to fade. They couldn't get a bucket, and they had just been victimized by a perfect Lucious bounce pass through their defense, which Summers finished in stride for an easy layup and a 28-23 lead. But with 30 seconds left, Shelvin Mack caught the ball on the wing in the break and iced a 3, the Bulldogs' first since the four-minute mark, and their first non-Hayward bucket since there were eight minutes remaining.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Gordon Hayward, Butler -- 13 points, three rebounds. Hayward's was 5-of-9 shooting -- including a barrage of 3s and one spinning fadeaway that had to make the NBA scouts in the house drool -- keeping Butler close throughout the first half. The Bulldogs weren't particularly bad from the field. But if Hayward hadn't made a few key 3s, the Spartans could have opened a lead in their torrid first few minutes.
PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Lucious of Michigan State -- eight points, one rebound, three assists, one steal. The aforementioned Lucious didn't just score and needle gorgeous bounce passes through Butler's vaunted defense. He also -- and most importantly -- didn't turn the ball over. Butler has been great at turning its opponents over in its run to the Final Four, but Lucious handled the ball well and Michigan State didn't waste any possessions against the grind-it-out Bulldogs.
STAT OF THE HALF: Offensive rebounds. Butler was never going to dominate Michigan State on the offensive glass, but the Bulldogs were almost invisible after their shots hit the rim. Butler grabbed three of their misses, good for a paltry 17.6 percent from the field. Butler doesn't need to grab many rebounds; Stevens prefers his guys get back and set up that difficult defense rather than crash the glass on the offensive end. But it wouldn't hurt for Butler to preserve a few more of their possessions in the second half.
STAT OF THE HALF II: Fouls. There were lots of them for both teams, a combined 16 total. Michigan State committed nine of those fouls, and Raymar Morgan got three of them, an affliction that caused him to miss much of the first half. The referees seem dedicated to keeping this game relatively free of overwhelming physicality, so Morgan will have to be especially careful in the early moments of the second.
WHAT BUTLER HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Hayward has to keep attacking the rim. Michigan State is struggling to match up with him, and with Morgan in foul trouble there's no one that should be able to stop him.
2. You too, Shelvin Mack. Don't settle.
3. Butler has to figure out a way to close down on Lucious, Summers, and the rest of Michigan State's athletic guards better. Butler got here by dominating its opponents on the perimeter, by making everything difficult, by forcing turnovers. That hasn't happened tonight.
WHAT MICHIGAN STATE HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Get lots of help on Hayward. You don't want to give up too many open looks, but rotating away from any non-Mack shooters in Butler's lineup is a pretty safe bet. Smart rotations could negate Butler's most effective player without revealing too many holes elsewhere.
2. Keep hitting shots. Simple, but true. It's hard to get good interior looks on Butler's defense. The help is too good. If the shots stop falling, some of that vaunted offensive rebounding wouldn't hurt.
3. Attack Matt Howard. Butler has been able to play without Howard in the past, but his rebounding would be a major boost on offense, and if MSU can keep him foul trouble, they can continue to dominate the glass.