Butler returns to Final Four by beating Florida in overtime
The eighth-seeded Bulldogs, surprise finalists last year, erase an 11-point deficit in the second half to claim a 74-71 win against the second-seeded Gators.
Butler took its cue in overtime, and the Bulldogs are going back to the Final Four.
Senior guard Shelvin Mack delivered a clutch three-point basket to give Butler a lead it wouldn't relinquish, and the Bulldogs held on to beat Florida, 74-71, in the NCAA tournament Southeast Regional championship game Saturday at New Orleans Arena.
Mack's shot with 1:21 left in overtime put Butler (27-9) on the fast track to the Final Four in Houston. The Gators (29-8), the No. 2-seeded team in the regional, failed to hold an 11-point lead with 9 minutes 26 seconds left in regulation.
"[Butler's] awareness, and their will, and their refusal to be denied was really impressive," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said.
Mack hit eight of 20 shots, and only four of 13 from three-point range, but he led all scorers with 27 points. Butler's Matt Howard finished with 14 points and five rebounds. Howard was asked about the turning point, when the Bulldogs trimmed the deficit from 11 to four points in less than three minutes.
"We talked about not having any regrets," Howard said. "At that point, there were some things we could be doing a lot better, and just being aggressive. . . . Our bench was good for us."
Butler's reserves outscored Florida's, 23-2. Zach Hahn hit two three-point shots in the first half, and Khyle Marshall hit a layup with 3:33 left in regulation that put Butler in front, 64-62. The Bulldogs had 16 offensive rebounds, twice the Gators' total.
Marshall had 10 points and seven rebounds, all offensive boards, in 21 minutes off the Butler bench.
Butler shut down Florida's three-point shooting game, as the Gators hit only three of 14 from behind the line. Senior Vernon Macklin muscled his way around the basket for a team-high 25 points, but as a 44% free-throw shooter, he played only one minute in the overtime.
"I would have liked to have utilized Vernon a lot more in the second half," Donovan said, "but it was hard because he was in foul trouble."
Alex Tyus, the Gators' 6-8 senior forward, had 14 points and 10 rebounds but complained afterward that his teammates were settling for jump shots. Florida's Erving Walker waited until about four seconds were left in regulation before moving toward the basket and missing a three-point shot, and teammate Kenny Boynton misfired on a three-point attempt when the Gators trailed by one point with 19 seconds left.
"I felt like our players weren't looking for us," Tyus said.
Butler, last year's national runner-up, has gone 12-4 in NCAA tournament play since 2007. The Bulldogs won't be playing in their hometown, as they did in last year's Final Four at Indianapolis, but they will certainly be the sentimental favorite in Houston.
"It doesn't matter how you win, you just try to play the next one," Butler Coach Brad Stevens said.
Mashek writes for the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald.