Saturday, March 27, 2010
Halftime: Butler 27, Kansas State 20
By Mark Schlabach
Salt Lake City -- Butler is headed home.
The No. 5-seeded Bulldogs stunned No. 2-seeded Kansas State 63-56 in the West Regional final at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday, sending them to the Final Four in their hometown of Indianapolis.
Butler trailed only once in the game -- the Wildcats led 52-51 after Denis Clemente's 3-pointer with 4:49 to go -- but the Bulldogs scored nine consecutive points after the score was tied at 54.
The Bulldogs, who have won 24 consecutive games, will become the first team since UCLA in 1976 to play in the Final Four in their hometown. Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of next week's Final Four, is about seven miles from the Butler campus.
The Bulldogs will play the winner of Sunday's Midwest Regional final between No. 5-seeded Michigan State and No. 6-seeded Tennessee in next week's national semifinals.
"City of Indy, we're coming home!" Stevens yelled into a microphone during post-game ceremonies.
As the Bulldogs sported Final Four T-shirts and hats, and Stevens was interviewed by network TV, Butler fans chanted, "Let's go home! Let's go home!"
For the second straight game here, the Bulldogs used relentless defense to pull ahead of a higher seed. Butler led 27-20 at the half, after Wildcats guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente combined for only two points in the first half. The K-State guards combined to average 46 points in the first three NCAA games.
Butler led 49-39 with 7:34 to go, but the Wildcats went on a 13-2 run to take a 52-51 lead.
But the Bulldogs made every big play when it counted during the final 3 1/2 minutes. After Clemente tied the score at 54 with 3:06 left, Butler forward Gordon Hayward scored on an alley-oop pass from guard Ronald Nored to take a 56-54 lead.
After Pullen shot an air ball on a 3-point attempt, Nored blew past Clemente for a layup to make the score 58-54. Then Clemente came up empty on one-and-one foul shots, and Butler guard Shelvin Mack saved an offensive rebound to Matt Howard on a blocked shot. Hayward scored a layup to give the Bulldogs a 60-54 lead with 1:02 to play.
The Wildcats turned it over on their next two possessions, all but ending the game.
Hayward scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Mack scored 16 points with three assists and two steals.
The Bulldogs shot 45.7-percent from the floor, including 7-for-15 on 3-pointers.
But Butler's defense was the difference. Kansas State shot only 38.6 percent, including 5-for-15 on 3-pointers.
Clemente led the 'Cats with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting, and Pullen scored 14 points (all of them in the second half) with six steals.