March 28, 2010
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(Saturday, March 27th)
Final Score: Butler 63, Kansas State 56
Salt Lake City, UT (Sports Network) – Gordon Hayward scored six of his 22 points in the final minutes to counter a furious Kansas State comeback that swung momentum and the lead, as Butler sealed a trip to the Final Four with a 63-56 victory in the West Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
Shelvin Mack scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Matt Howard chipped in eight points for the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (32-4), who are not only on their longest run into the NCAAs but also as a representative of the Horizon League.
Butler now heads to Indianapolis next Saturday, essentially in its own back yard, to take on either Michigan State or Tennessee in the Final Four. The Bulldogs boast the nation’s longest winning streak at 24 games, having last tasted defeat in December against UAB.
“It’s hard to put into words. But it has always been a team thing at Butler. And these guys continued on that path today,” said third-year Butler coach Brad Stevens.
Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen combined for two points in the first half, but recovered to help erase a double-digit deficit and gain a 52-51 lead with under five minutes to play.
Clemente ended with 18 points and Pullen 14 with six steals. Curtis Kelly added 14 points, five boards and three blocks for the second-seeded Wildcats (29-8), who got by Xavier in a double-overtime thriller on Thursday for their first Elite Eight appearance since 1988.
Kansas State began an assault on Butler’s 10-point lead as the clock rolled past eight minutes left with Pullen and Clemente hitting consecutive threes around a Mack triple for the Bulldogs.
Pullen stroked another three to answer two free throws by Hayward and sank two of his own from the charity stripe for a one-possession game, 51-49, with 5:06 remaining.
Clemente then got a steal off Hayward and was sent to the line. He missed the front end, Dominique Sutton secured the carom and kicked it out to Clemente in the right corner for a three that gave K-State its first lead of the game.
Butler dug deep, though, and showed the mettle of a Final Four team with 12 of the next 14 points to secure a spot in Indianapolis.
“I think mentally we looked tired. We were sluggish. I don’t think it was about our wrongdoing as much as it was about Butler’s right-doing. Every time we made a couple shots, they stepped right back up and make a shot or make a play,” said Kansas State coach Frank Martin.
A pair of trips to the line had Butler back up two until Clemente cut across the left baseline to float in a tear-drop basket and tie the game with 3:06 left.
Ronald Nored had perhaps the best of his five assists on a stinging feed to Hayward down low for a high-percentage hoop on the other end. Nored then took it in himself with a strong move through the lane after a missed Pullen three to open up a four-point gap with 2:04 on the clock.
Clemente squandered a chance for points at the line by missing the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, and Butler came back with a hustle play to run the lead to six with 1:06 left.
Willie Veasley couldn’t get a layup to go, but Mack scrambled to save the ball from going out of bounds. It made its way to Hayward, who drove left from the top of the key and angled his way to the rim for a banked layup and a 60-54 difference.
“We weren’t able to guard. We had defensive breakdowns. We didn’t make shots. We made some bad decisions on offense, and they capitalized. They’re a good team,” said Pullen.
Nored pestered both Clemente and Pullen into quick turnovers on the next two possessions before the ‘Cats could even set up their offense. The sloppy sequence for K-State led to an additional three points for Butler, which essentially put the game away on Nored’s layup with nine seconds to go.
“It’s special for all of us here. It will be special anywhere we went. The fact we get to play in front of our home crowd, they’ve just been tremendous all year supporting us, kind of makes it a little more special,” said Hayward of returning to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
The Wildcats were lucky to be down only 27-20 at the break after a poor opening half. Butler held Pullen, the ‘Cats leading scorer, without a point and their second leading scorer Clemente to a single bucket. Kelly helped offset KSU’s 35.7 percent shooting with a dozen points on 6-of-10 field goals.
Kansas State got some signs of life early in the second with four points from Clemente and a pair of Pullen free throws to get the junior guard off the schnide. The brief 6-0 stretch made it a one-point game, but Butler was back in business shortly thereafter.
Two successful trips to the line preceded a Hayward three to open back up an eight-point margin, 34-26, and a Mack three-ball moments later stretched the lead to nine.
Pullen managed his first field goal in the midst of Butler’s run and Clemente got a pair of layups to fall, but Hayward’s jumper with 11 minutes on the clock still made it a 10-point game, 44-34.
Butler got out to a 10-4 lead on Shawn Vanzant’s three-pointer approaching seven minutes in. Mack dropped a three two minutes later to kick off a 10-2 Bulldog run that netted a 20-10 advantage with under six minutes to go.
Kansas State’s struggles continued and Clemente finally got to the hoop for a layup for the half’s final score to limit the damage.
Nored had four points, five rebounds and four steals. Hayward, who was named Most Oustanding Player for the West Region, was 6-of-6 at the line and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds…Butler held a 41-29 rebounding advantage and shot 45.7 percent from the floor…K-State starters Sutton and Luis Colon were 1-of-7 from the field for two points…The Wildcats wound up shooting 38.6 percent for the game and 5-for-15 from three-point range…This game marked the first-ever meeting between Butler and Kansas State on the hardwood.