Thursday, March 11, 2010
West Virginia's Butler did it
By Dana O'Neil
NEW YORK -- Da'Sean Butler just put the icing on top of a crazy day at the Big East tournament.
Da'Sean Butler hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer for West Virginia.
The best player in a Mountaineer uniform all season banked home a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, leading West Virginia to a highlight reel 54-51 win over Cincinnati. West Virginia, the only top four seed left standing, advances to the semifinals against Notre Dame.
"He called it,'' said Cincinnati's Lance Stephenson, who was defending Butler. "He said, 'Bank.' I said, 'What?' I turned around and saw it go in. Oh man.''
The game wasn't played with the same high-scoring fun as the afternoon session, but it didn't lack for intensity. Credit a feisty Cincinnati team that may have found its stride here in New York for coming back time and time again and pushing the Mountaineers quite literally to the brink.
But ultimately great players do great things and Butler did them all. He not only scored the winner, he set it up. Butler's pressure defense of Dion Dixon forced Dixon into a turnover on the sideline right in front of the West Virginia bench. The 'Eers got the ball back with 3.1 seconds left and the game tied.
Enter Butler. Cue the drama.
"Honestly, I was supposed to just catch the ball and get a couple of dribbles inside the 3-point line,'' Butler said. "When I got the ball [Stephenson] kind of pressed up on me, so I lost my balance and by the time I squared up, I only had time to take one dribble. When I took the one dribble, I put it up. It felt good. I saw it hit the glass and I said, 'Oh, it's fine.' It fell right there and I said, 'All right, it went in. Thank God.''
Wes Johnson and Scottie Reynolds long ago stole the attention for league player of the year, but away from the spotlight, Butler built a resume every bit as impressive. He is one of just three 2,000-point scorers at WVU (Jerry West is another) and has grown from an unheralded recruit to a bona fide All-American.
The Neers are back in the semifinals for the third time in as many years but haven't won a conference crown of any kind since 1984, when they took the Atlantic 10 title.
Could this be their year? They are the lone top seed left, so the odds are in their favor.
More than that, West Virginia could work its way into the NCAA tournament No. 1 seed conversation. If the Mountaineers win the Big East tournament, they'll be tough to keep out, a fact the players are keenly aware of.
"We felt like after we beat Villanova, we locked the No. 2 up,'' Butler said. "But if we win the Big East, why wouldn't we be No. 1?''