Hinkle Magic? You better believe it

Butler beats No. 8 Gonzaga on game-winning steal and bucket by Roosevelt Jones

Updated: January 20, 2013, 11:36 AM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- When they finally cleared the court, after the mayhem had ended and the shock had at least abated if not entirely worn off, the little kids started shooting. It was already after midnight, well past their bedtimes, but their parents weren't looking at their watches, and the basket was beckoning.

So the kids scrounged up a few balls and pretended. They launched heaves and 3-pointers beyond their reach, occasionally mixing in a layup with the appropriate marionette arm-up, knee-bent form.

But none of the little mimics could quite duplicate what had just happened on the Hinkle Fieldhouse court.

Could anyone?

[+] EnlargeBrad Stevens
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsButler coach Brad Stevens was as calm and collected as ever after one of his program's finest moments.

Well, yes, maybe one guy.

Maybe Bobby Plump.

Somewhere around its second consecutive trip to the Final Four, Butler stopped being the Milan High of college basketball and grew up into a national program.

And Roosevelt Jones does not own the textbook form of the originator of the last-shot miracle. "It's more of a push," is how Indianapolis Star reporter David Woods described Jones' unorthodox approach.

But if this wasn't Hoosiers redux, what was?

Hinkle packed to the point that people were standing around the edges of the upper deck. Gonzaga, the original Cinderella, taking on the team it had passed the glass slipper torch to.

Game all but over after Alex Barlow traveled on what should have been, by all accounts, Butler's last chance at a victory.

And then, incredibly, game won.

With 3.5 ticks on the clock, Jones intercepted David Stockton's errant inbounds pass, glanced at the clock, drove to the top of the key, into the lane and launched his very unorthodox textbook floater.

Butler 64, Gonzaga 63.

"That's just an ordinary day around here," quipped Dave McConnell, a writer for Victoryfirelight.com, while fans -- or was it all of Indiana? -- stormed the court.

True enough. The old barn has been home to plenty of miracles in its 85 years, including Plump's last shot.

But to write this final shot off of as the byproduct of pixie dust and Hinkle magic doesn't give Jones his due.

This wasn't a last-second Hail Mary luck shot. It was a smart play executed by a heady player.

After Barlow was whistled for the travel, some fans started to head for the exits while others morosely stood in their seats. Gonzaga players high-fived on the bench and their small pocket of fans celebrated.

Meantime, Jones eavesdropped.

"I heard their coach tell [Stockton] to throw a lob pass to [Kelly] Olynyk, so I got behind him," Jones said.

Jones not only intercepted the ball, but in a situation in which plenty in his position would have panicked, he had the presence of mind to glance at the clock and take his time -- what little time you can take in 3.5 seconds. He took a good, planned, methodical shot, not a crazy one.

"That was all Roosevelt," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Smith
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesNothing came easy as Gonzaga and Butler scrapped and clawed for 40 minutes Saturday night.

All Roosevelt, yes, but then again, Jones is all Butler and could very well be all Gonzaga. His last play was exactly what the two teams are all about. Neither is searching and scrapping for players under rocks. They have big enough reputations to get good players, but they are selective in what kind of good players they take.

Stevens and Mark Few know the type of people and players who work for them. Gonzaga and Butler rosters are typically stuffed with guys with high basketball IQs who get better as their careers progress -- guys like Jones who don't flinch when the odds are stacked, or guys like Olynyk, who has blossomed into a star. That savvy recognition of who they are as teams is what has turned the two programs into just that -- programs.

The crazy finish will add to the lure and the charm of Butler, but really there's nothing delicate, quaint or fuzzy about Butler anymore.

Nor Gonzaga. Aside from the number of zeroes in their budgets, these two are every bit as major as any big league program (and considerably more major than a few chronic basement-dwellers from the power conferences).

Butler was without its leading scorer, Rotnei Clarke. Gonzaga was playing in a crazy atmosphere.

And the two went toe-to-toe for 40 minutes in almost a dead heat. Butler shot 50 percent for the game, the Zags 47; Butler had 28 rebounds, Gonzaga 26; both had 14 assists.

The separator between the No. 8 Zags and No. 13 Bulldogs came at the buzzer.

"Like I told them after the game, if that shot didn't go down, would we be less of a team? No," Stevens said. "Now, because it did, people are going to say we're greater, but we're not. And is Gonzaga less of a team because they lost? Of course not."

But to the victor go the spoils, and for Jones, the spoils will be Plump.

Even before the final seconds, the sophomore had been huge for Butler. After allowing the Bulldogs, without the services of Clarke, to drain 7 of 13 3-pointers, the Zags buckled down on their perimeter defense, limiting Butler to just one make on six tries.

That forced Butler to go inside, where, with Olynyk, Elias Harris, Mike Hart and Sam Dower, Gonzaga had a sizeable advantage.

To score, the Bulldogs had to be creative, which is pretty much Jones' wheelhouse.

"He doesn't take many jump shots," Stevens said. "He doesn't have a jump shot."

Jones' area is somewhere from about 8 feet in, a repertoire of off-kilter floaters and leaners that inexplicably go in. Few said Jones' unorthodox style made him almost impossible to defend because he doesn't do things the way you're necessarily supposed to.

"He can attack you off the dribble, but not off the dribble the way most people do," Few said. "He gets into you, leans into you, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone make as many consistent floaters as he does."

[+] EnlargeButler Bulldogs
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesRoosevelt Jones scored 20 points against the Zags -- none bigger than the game winner.

Jones scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, accounting for exactly half of Butler's final 20 minutes of offense.

It was the final shot, of course, that folks will remember.

Already this year, Butler has won on a Clarke buzzer-beater against Marquette and a Barlow winner against then-No. 1 Indiana.

"It was my turn," Jones joked. "I always believe this team is going to win. I know we are in every game, no matter how much time is left on the clock."

Coaches, of course, are paid to believe their team will find a way to win regardless of how dire the situation might appear. Even if they don't necessarily really believe it.

But after the game, Stevens insisted it was more than just blind faith or coachspeak that had him convinced his team could still win a game every other person in the building had given up on.

"These guys are crazy enough to make me believe in them," he said.

Believe in a Hoosier miracle? Sure.

But also believe in his program.

Dana O'Neil | email

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