Butler's dream season continues

INDIANAPOLIS — All week, the Final Four has been a homecoming celebration of Butler basketball.

Butler's first appearance in the national semifinals, while playing about six miles from its campus, had drawn comparisons to the movie "Hoosiers," part of which was filmed in its famed Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Fifth-seeded Butler's magical run has been the ultimate fairy tale for the tiny private liberal arts university of 4,505 students that is part of the Horizon League.

With the Bulldogs 52-50 victory against fifth-seeded Michigan State on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, the celebration in this basketball-crazed city will continue for at least two more days.

Butler (33-4), which has won 25 consecutive games, will play in Monday's national championship game against top-seeded Duke (34-5), which defeated second-seeded West Virginia (31-7), 78-57, later Saturday. The Bulldogs could be the lowest seed to win a national title since Kansas did it as a No. 6 in 1988.


After the game, Bulldogs players ran to the center circle and jumped up and down while Butler students chanted, "We're going to the 'ship." As the Butler sophomore forward Gordon Hayward left the court with a bloody lip to go with 19 points and 9 rebounds, he waved to adoring, roaring Butler fans.

''This is what we've all played for," Hayward said. "This is where we should be. This is where we want to be."

Injury-riddled Michigan State (28-9) had been seeking a second straight trip to the national title game, after losing last season to North Carolina in the final. The loss came on the 10th anniversary of the Spartans' victory in the 2000 national championship game.

Butler's win is all the more impressive considering the Bulldogs shot 30.6 percent from the field and had only one field goal in the final 12 minutes 17 seconds.

''I felt like if I was not playing, I would be a Butler fan," said Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, whose team was held without a fast-break point. "I like the way they play. They're physical. I like their story. I like the whole thing. They do play a lot like a Big Ten team."

A game that was lackluster for stretches, especially in the second half, culminated in a tense final minute.

Two free throws by Michigan State forward Draymond Green with 56.3 seconds left cut Butler's lead to 50-49. Butler ran the shot clock down and guard Ronald Nored missed a driving layup from the right over two Michigan State defenders with 30 seconds left.

After a Michigan State timeout, Green got the ball and drove against Hayward, but his short jumper missed with about 8 seconds left. Nored rebounded the ball and was fouled with 6.1 seconds left by Green, who fouled out on the play.


Green motioned to the referees that he had been fouled on his shot, and Izzo screamed and stomped on the sideline. Nored calmly made both free throws to extend his team's lead to 52-49.

Michigan State inbounded the ball with 5.8 seconds left, but Butler fouled guard Korie Lucious on purpose near midcourt with two seconds left.

He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, which was rebounded by Hayward.

"One thing about us is there's never a sense of fear," Nored said. "We're confident in everything we do."

After the game, Hayward said he was trying to hold his ground on Green's missed shot in the game's final seconds.

''I don't know if I got a piece of the ball or maybe a piece of his arm," he said. "Just glad that we got that stop."

Afterward, Izzo said he was upset about some of the game's foul calls, especially some late ones. His team was whistled for four more fouls (21-17) than Butler.

The Spartans were ahead by as many as 7 points in the first half, but never led in the final 18 minutes of the game.Now, as when tiny Milan beat Muncie Central for the state title in 1954, the inspiration for "Hoosiers," Butler is just one game away from its lofty goal of winning a national championship. The team discussed it during the first team meeting last fall.

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