Butler rallies to beat top-seeded Syracuse
Fri, 26 Mar 2010 01:22:58 GMT —
Butler missed three times as many 3-pointers as it made, yet never hesitated to keep on shooting them.
A couple of them finally fell late and the Bulldogs went from being pesky defenders to stifling, holding Syracuse scoreless for almost 5 minutes and upsetting the top-seeded Orange 63-59 on Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
Butler is in the regional final for the first time in school history, facing Kansas State on Saturday for a ticket to the Final Four in Indianapolis - home of the Bulldogs.
"I'm going home Saturday night or Sunday morning whenever the charter gets here," coach Brad Stevens said. "I just hope we're going there with some season left."
There just might be.
The Bulldogs scrapped through a poor shooting night and were ultraprotective of the ball - even while chucking it 24 times from beyond the arc - as they tried to crack Syracuse's acclaimed 2-3 zone defense. Every time the ball clanged off the rim, several Butler players were already diligently on their way to the other end to defend and keep the Orange from fast breaks.
Butler forced 18 turnovers while committing just seven, more than making up for Syracuse's 38-28 advantage in rebounds.
"We value possessions. That's the main reason we are still here," Stevens said.
That and some clutch shooting. After making only 4 of 22 3-pointers, the Bulldogs hit their last two attempts during the 11-0 run that clinched it.
Ronald Nored got it started when his 3-pointer cut Syracuse's lead to 54-53 with 3:14 left and Willie Veasley kept it going with a 3 that bounced high off the rim and appeared to be headed over the backboard. But the ball caromed off the glass and ended up falling through the net as Veasley celebrated with a fist pump and grin - while on his way back to defend.
"I was headed down the court on defense because I figured it was going to go over the top of the backboard. But I looked back and it came down and went through," Veasley said. "That was a H-O-R-S-E shot. I've never made a shot quite like that."
Veasley followed his fortunate 3 with a tip-in as the Bulldogs scored 11 straight points and became the latest mid-major team to knock off a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Instead of Syracuse's vaunted zone controlling the game, Butler's pesky man-to-man defense was the difference as the Bulldogs scrapped through poor shooting and won their 23rd straight.
"We said this word over and over in Indianapolis, and that word is 'resolve.' These guys have resolve," Stevens said. "It's hard to measure, but they've got it."
The Bulldogs (31-4) certainly did in the last 5 minutes, holding the Orange without a point from the time Syracuse went up by four with 5:23 left until a too-little-too-late layup with 35 seconds remaining.
Gordon Hayward scored 17 points and started the celebration while dribbling out the clock after the Bulldogs forced Syracuse into its 18th turnover.
The Orange (30-5) made only three more field goals than turnovers in another loss in the round of 16. Syracuse hasn't played in the regional finals since winning the 2003 national title.
"The game was a story of turnovers. They didn't make turnovers," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They were really good with the basketball. We just had 18 turnovers and you can't give away that many possessions."
Veasley finished with 13 points and three steals. Nored had five steals and Shelvin Mack added 14 points and five assists.
Wes Johnson had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Orange, the second No. 1 seed to go down. Northern Iowa stunned top-ranked Kansas in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
Scoop Jardine added 14 points and five assists and Andy Rautins scored 15, including a 3-pointer to open the second half. That sent the Orange on a 15-4 run that gave them their first lead.
But the sloppy Orange couldn't overcome all their turnovers, and the 2-3 zone that so many wondered whether Butler could crack was no match for the Bulldogs' sharp shooting in the final minutes after Syracuse had taken a 54-50 lead with 5:23 left.
"We knew they pride themselves on defense and they played us tough," Johnson said. "We accomplished a lot this season as the expectations for this team weren't very high. We won games we weren't supposed to and won the Big East Conference outright. We have a lot to be happy about. But to lose like this, it hurts."
After Nored hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one, Matt Howard scored inside to put the Bulldogs back ahead and then Veasley got his fortunate bounce off the rim and backboard to put Butler up 58-54.
Veasley added a tip-in on Butler's next possession, and the Bulldogs held on.
After leading by 12 in the first half, the Horizon League champions were in jeopardy of getting run over by the Orange as they recovered from a frustrating start. But Syracuse could never get its transition game going because the Bulldogs always got back in time.
Syracuse played again without center Arinze Onuaku, sidelined since the Big East tournament with a right quadriceps injury, and had to sit 6-foot-9 Rick Jackson when he was called for his fourth foul with 8:08 left.
Jackson finished with just four points, but did pull down nine rebounds.
Syracuse's loss left No. 2 seed West Virginia as the only Big East team remaining in the tournament. The league received eight bids - most of any conference.