WASHINGTON D.C. --—The talk heading into Butler's NCAA Tournament 2nd round game centered around the challenge of keeping Old Dominion off the boards. The top offensive rebounding team in the country, Old Dominion showed incredible skill attacking the glass throughout their contest with Butler. Their ability to get Butler's big men in foul trouble, and to convert at the free throw line, also put the Bulldogs' season in serious jeopardy.
It was a Butler offensive rebound, however, that made the difference, as Matt Howard's put-back at the buzzer sent the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament's 3rd Round with a 60-58 victory over Old Dominion.
With the clock approaching zero, Shawn Vanzant slipped on his way to the basket, flinging the ball into the air. Andrew Smith volleyed the ball off the back board, with it eventually coming to rest in the hands of Howard, who laid it in with 0.1 seconds remaining.
"[Smith] made a great play keeping it alive. And my guy, I think, went with him on that jump. And it's pretty easy when it's just you and the ball and the rim," said Howard. "But I didn't really -- I was thinking that there wasn't going to be any time. I was trying to get up as quickly as possible, and fortunately we had just enough time."
The put-back was Howard's first field goal in over seven minutes of game action, but his final two points were clearly the most important of the game. The Connersville, Indiana native finished with a team-high 15 points.
Butler has now won 10 consecutive games.
The first half was very competitive as neither team led by more than five points. Old Dominion had that advantage, 18-13, after a Keyon Carter basket. However, the Dawgs kept it close thanks to clutch defense and holding their own on the glass.
The Monarchs led 29-27 at halftime with the rebounding numbers fairly even. Old Dominion had a 14-13 edge, yet Butler held the advantage on the offensive glass, 9-5. For the game, Butler collected 18 offensive rebounds (52.9 percent of available rebounds) compared to 13 offensive rebounds (48.1 percent of available rebounds) for the Monarchs.
After a quick 5-0 spurt gave Butler a 32-29 lead early in the 2nd half, Old Dominion focused on attacking the paint and getting Butler's big men -- Howard and Andrew Smith -- in foul trouble. Smith picked up his fourth foul at the 15:56 mark and Howard played on despite picking up his third personal.
Butler once again got major contributions from an unlikely source. Garrett Butcher has battled numerous injuries throughout his career and didn't play in seven of Butler's last 14 games. Butcher essentially watched his teammates practice at the Verizon Center Wednesday, yet with Smith in foul trouble, it was Butcher who pulled off the warm-ups and made a significant impact. At one point in the second half, Butcher went on a personal 6-0 run, turning a 42-41 deficit into a 47-42 Butler lead. Butcher finished with six points and six rebounds in just 12 minutes of playing time.
"The second half of the season, I've really been limited on my minutes because of injury. I don't practice a whole lot, but I'm always ready. Coach [Stevens] lets me know that, 'Hey, if we need you, be ready to go.'," said Butcher. "That [Horizon League] championship game last week turned out that way, and I knew coming into today that it could turn out that way too, and it happened to be that way because of some foul trouble, but I'm ready to step up."
Shelvin Mack also had 15 points for Butler, while Smith added 11.
Butler advances to Saturday's 3rd Round game, and will meet top-seeded Pittsburgh. The Panthers defeated UNC-Asheville 74-51 to advance to Saturday's contest.
Tip time for Saturday's game between Butler and Pittsburgh has yet to be announced.