Butler’s Last Second Shot Falls Just Short

Steve O Speak

Duke may have won the National Championship yesterday, but the Butler Bulldogs are the real winners. People may say there are no moral victories in sports, but all one would have to do is watch last night’s game to prove them wrong. Now it might not be a true ‘Cinderella Story’ since Butler was a 5th seed and was a highly ranked team all year. In fact if anything, Butler should have been a 3rd or 4th seed, but wasn’t because they play in a small conference. What this story is really is a ‘David vs. Goliath’, and while David didn’t win, it is a great story nonetheless.

Butler is the smallest school to reach the Championship game since the field expanded to 64 (65) teams in 1985. And while they might have been a highly ranked team, their seeding and respect level in the Tournament fell given their deficiencies. Those weaknesses should have long ago been exposed, but it was figured that they would be fully visible against Duke the ‘Goliath’. Butler couldn’t match up with Duke’s size, athleticism, and strength. And Butler didn’t have a chance to compete with Duke’s pedigree, not only with their school and coach, but their entire roster. Duke is made up of a whole stable of 5-star recruits, with a few 4-star players thrown in their. On paper the Bulldogs didn’t have a chance, and that’s exactly what we heard for 48 hours from every talking head in college basketball.

No one thought Butler’s defensive style could slow down Duke, yet the Blue Devils managed just 61 points. And no one thought that the Bulldogs could run with Duke and keep the game close, but Butler never trailed by more than 6 points. It really was a fantastic game from start to finish, because the entire time Butler was in the game, and you believed that they could upset the Blue Devils. I was amazed with how well Butler dictated their game plan on Duke. And was highly impressed with their ability to avoid unnecessary fouls (for the most part), especially when some of their players were in foul trouble. Butler exceeded every expectation, and in fact when Gordon Hayward’s final shot left his hands I thought it was going to fall. Because Butler deserved to win that game, and very well could have if one or two plays turned out differently.

I think there was a blown call on the Hayward charge late in the game that unfortunately, should have been an and one situation. Those two points would have tied the game, and had Hayward made his free throw (he went 8 for 8 from the line), Butler would have been up by one as the clock ticked away. All-in-all though I don’t think you can blame this game on the officiating. While I think they let Duke get away with some extra contact in the 1st half, they called a much closer game in the 2nd half.  The difference in the game was Butler wasn’t able to capitalize on their opportunities.

The Bulldogs really did control the tempo of the game, but were plagued with some cold shooting. Their 34.5 % shooting was 11% off their season average. The worst part about it is a number were open shots, and a bunch more were drives to the basket that they were just too strong. I really think their inexperience and the big game played into their cold shooting day. Had Butler been able to shoot like they did during the season, they would have won last night’s game handily.

While we might have to endure a year of Duke being the National Champions, and inexplicably they will be a highly ranked team next year despite the fact pretty much everyone is leaving, Butler will finally get the credit they deserve. They will be back and if Gordon Hayward doesn’t turn pro, they will be a very dangerous team next season. And don’t be surprised if Butler makes a return trip the the Final Four and Championship game.

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