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Saturday, March 26, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Butler 74, Florida 71 (OT)

By Andy Katz

NEW ORLEANS -- The Bulldogs are going back to the Final Four for a second consecutive season after a dramatic 74-71 overtime victory over Florida Saturday at the New Orleans Arena.

Butler knocked off Old Dominion on a last-second shot. They beat Pitt after multiple mental errors forced a final-possession win over the top seed in the region. They outlasted Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 before taking down the No. 2 seed Gators in the final seconds of overtime.

The Bulldogs were down 11 midway through the second half, climbed back into a tie at the end of regulation and then made the winning plays to capture the victory.

Butler is the first team outside the power-six conferences since UNLV in 1990-91 to make consecutive appearances in the Final Four. The Bulldogs are also team to make back-to-back Final Four trips and not be seeded first or second either time. And not to be forgotten, 34-year-old Brad Stevens is the first coach to ever make his second Final Four before the age of 35. Remarkable.

Butler played most of the overtime without Andrew Smith, who fouled out 18 seconds into the extra period. But it didn’t make as much of a difference on the backboard as it appeared it might.

Matt Howard and Khyle Marshall made key buckets inside and the Bulldogs were able to negate a few big shots from the Gators. Florida's Kenny Boynton made a 3-pointer to tie the game at 67 but then Ronald Nored got fouled and made two free throws.

And then came a bang-bang, back-to-back 3-pointer display. Erving Walker converted from beyond, the arc but Shelvin Mack, the Southeast Regional MVP, answered with his own 3 to take a two-point lead.

The Gators had a chance, though. Both Boynton and Walker missed 3s in the final eight seconds of the game, capping off a 3-for-15 long-range performance by Florida. Butler eventually got the rebound and ran out the clock.

Star of the game: Mack led all scorers with 27 points, including five in OT. Honorable mention goes to freshman Kyhle Marshall, who not only made 4-of-6 shots for 10 points, but also collected a career-high seven offensive rebounds.

Overlooked player: The game Vernon Macklin had for Florida was stellar as he scored 25 and was 11-of-14 from the field.

Coaching key move: Billy Donovan using zone quite a bit played a huge role in the tightness of this game. He kept Butler off-balance for most of the game.

End-of-regulation impressions: Butler actually had a real shot to win this game before overtime had it not been for its poor free throw shooting. Howard missed the back end of a two-shot foul. Had he made the second shot, Walker and the Gators possibly would have handled the final possession. Instead, it was a tie game and Walker -- 0-for-8 from the field at the time -- waited until the final seconds to launch a 3-pointer that was no good. ... Butler missed 10 of 20 free throws while Florida made 13 of 14 during the game. ... The 3s from Shawn Vanzant and a rare cameo from Chrishawn Hopkins helped spur the Butler 11-point comeback late in the second half. ... Alex Tyus and Macklin played some of their best basketball to exploit a weak Butler inside game. But it wasn’t enough to offset Butler’s late strong guard play and work driving inside by Howard.

First-half impressions: Florida should have been up by more than a point heading into the break. The Gators tried as much as possible to use Macklin's size advantage. But there were still too many empty possessions. Macklin dominated with 7-of-9 for 15 points. Foul problems for Howard (two) made him less effective during his 15 minutes. ... Had it not been for Mack making shots early (14 points), the occasional Zach Hahn 3-pointer (two), and the offensive rebounding for Marshall (3 of 3 in the game) the Bulldogs would have been down double-figures. ... Florida did the best job it has all season in the halfcourt defense. The Gators switched up their defense with a 2-3 zone and into man within the possession and the Bulldogs had to go down to the end of the shot clock quite a bit.

What's next: Butler, winner of 13 straight, returns to the Final Four and will face the winner of Sunday's matchup between VCU and Kansas. The Gators go back to Gainesville and finish the season with a 29-8 record.