Final Four: Butler has a long scoring drought in tight game

By Dave Skretta, AP
Saturday, April 3, 2010

Final Four: Butler has a long scoring drought

The Bulldogs have survived to the final media timeout with a 47-43 lead, despite not hitting a field goal since there was 12:18 left in the game.

How are they doing it?

They’re shooting just 32 percent from the field and 5 of 18 from the field, but Butler has also forced 15 turnovers and made on 14 of 20 trips to the free-throw line — compared to only 5 of 10 free throws for the Spartans.

Also impressive are nine offensive rebounds that have led to some big second-half points, and Butler is only losing the rebounding battle 30-26 against a physical Michigan State team that lacks size but still tends to bang pretty hard inside.

Butler has missed its last seven field goals, including a couple by Matt Howard from just in front of the rim, but the Bulldogs still lead 47-43 with just over 4 minutes left in the first half.

They also have two fouls to give before going over the limit, while Michigan State has already gone over the limit for the double-bonus. That could be critical down the stretch.

The Spartans are getting frustrated while Butler continues to play with a cool head.

Gordon Hayward just made a nifty move on the baseline to draw Draymond Green’s fourth foul, and the Michigan State forward was visibly upset — about the foul and being left alone on defense. Hayward made one of two free throws to make it 47-41 with under 6 minutes left.

Raymar Morgan has been having a tough night because of foul trouble, missing four of his first five shots, but he stuck back his own miss to make it a four-point game.

The Spartans still trail 46-41 with under 8 minutes left, and are in danger of losing for the first time at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Remember, the Spartans went 2-0 at the football stadium in last year’s Midwest Regional.

In fact, the Spartans have the best winning percentage of any team inside the hulking venue. The Colts lost their first two regular-season games at the stadium — even though they haven’t lost since. The Spartans have a 1.000 winning percentage.

At least for now.

Matt Howard just made a couple of free throws to put Butler ahead 46-41 with just over 9 minutes to go in a battle of No. 5 seeds.

The Spartans are digging themselves deeper into foul trouble. Raymar Morgan still has four fouls, and Draymond Green has joined Chris Allen and Delvon Roe with three fouls each.

Butler is already 13 of 18 from the file compared to 5 of 10 for Michigan State.

Turnovers are also becoming an issue for the Spartans, who have turned it over seven times in the second against just one for the BullDogs. Michigan State has 14 turnovers for the game, and Butler has 10 steals.

Shelvin Mack also gave those legs a test moments ago and looked like he was moving around stiffly but will be able to play. He’s been dealing with some muscle spasms.

Shelvin Mack is getting massaged with pain-relieving gel on the sideline because of some muscle spasms in his legs, but the Butler training staff is unsure whether he’ll return.

With less than 12 minutes left, that would be a huge loss.

Mack was the only player besides Gordon Hayward to put up any sustained offense in the first half for Butler. He tried to play in the second half for a short period, but he wasn’t very effective and took a seat back on the bench.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo thinks timeouts could be critical down the stretch, or he simply has a lot of confidence in his team overcoming adversity.

Willie Veasley’s fastbreak dunk gave Butler a 44-37 lead, its biggest of the game, and put the Spartans in their biggest hole of the NCAA tournament. With the blue-clad crowd on its feet, Izzo let his guys play rather than calling a timeout to stop the momentum.

Nice move.

Delvon Roe scored at the other end to get within five, and a missed 3-pointer by Avery Jukes will give the ball back to Michigan State when play resumes after a timeout.

Michigan State made its first four field goals of the second half, closing within 39-37, but Avery Jukes restored the four-point lead with an offensive putback.

Both teams have done a poor job of playing help-side defense, allowing easy baskets inside.

The Spartans are also running into foul trouble against a team that shoots better than 70 percent from the foul line. Raymar Morgan just picked up his fourth foul, and Chris Allen and Delvon Roe have three each with 12½ minutes left in the game.

The foul on Morgan sent Gordon Hayward to the line — the Bulldogs are already in the bonus — and he knocked down one of two to make it 42-37.

The player whose shot inspired the movie “Hoosiers” had some prime seats for Butler’s first Final Four game — even if it wasn’t being played at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Bobby Plump was sitting with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels while other members of the 1954 Milan High state championship team were scattered throughout the arena, a spokeswoman for the governor said.

Plump’s buzzer-beating jumper in the ‘54 Indiana state championship game gave tiny Milan the title. The shot inspired “Hoosiers,” and the climactic scene of that 1980s movie was filmed in Butler’s fabled arena.

Twenty minutes are in the books, and Michigan State and Butler aren’t giving any hints about who will be playing Monday night for the national championship.

Spartans 28, Bulldogs 28.

Michigan State looked as if it would be taking a lead into the locker room, calling timeout with a 28-25 lead and under a minute to go. But a turnover led to Shelvin Mack’s 3-pointer with about 35 seconds left, knotting the game.

Gordon Hayward has 13 points and Mack has a dozen for the Bulldogs, but the rest of the team combined to score just three points total. That includes Willie Veasley, who averages better than 10 per game but hasn’t made a field goal, and Matt Howard, who averages 11.8 points but has been mired in foul trouble.

The Spartans have been more balanced, with a team-high eight points from Korie Lucious and seven each from Draymond Green and Durrell Summers. Raymar Morgan has just two after sitting most of the first half with three fouls.

Both teams had been on lengthy scoring droughts before Garrick Sherman took a nifty pass in the post for an easy layup. Gordon Hayward answered at the other end for Butler with his third 3-pointer, making it 24-23 Spartans with under 4 minutes to go in the half.

Hayward hit his first four shots but had missed three in a row before finding the bottom of the net on that 3-pointer. The Spartans are doing a good job in their man-to-man defense of switching when Butler tries to set screens to free him up on the perimeter.

Hayward has 13 first-half points to lead all scorers.

Michigan State has gone more than 5 minutes without a field goal, and just had one taken away when Ronald Nored stepped in front of Delvon Roe and earned a charging foul.

Nored doesn’t score much, but he’s one of the best defenders in the Horizon League.

The two teams were charged up the first couple of minutes, rushing up and down the floor, but now they’ve slowed it down to the tortoise-like pace that most expected.

Shelvin Mack has helped Butler trim the Michigan State lead to 22-20 with 7½ minutes to go in the first half, scoring nine points in quick succession. He’s providing a nice complement for Gordon Hayward, who is being shadowed everywhere he goes.

Both teams have turned the ball over four times, Michigan State has a narrow lead in rebounds, and both teams are shooting around 50 percent from the field.

Talk about a couple of evenly matched programs.

Tom Izzo was stomping his foot on the sideline moments ago, and for good reason.

Raymar Morgan just picked up his third foul with 10:11 left in the first half, putting the banged-up Spartans in a bind. Morgan has been among the hottest players for Michigan State, but just toweled off what little sweat he could work up in about 7 minutes of floor time and shrugged off an offer of a water bottle from a team trainer.

The Spartans figured to use what little size advantage they had to their advantage, but they lack a true center and losing Morgan for an extended period of time will hurt their ability to defend Matt Howard inside and Gordon Hayward driving to the basket.

The only legit NBA prospect on the Bulldogs’ roster is carrying them early on.

Gordon Hayward is 4 for 4 from the field, including two early 3-pointers, but nobody else wearing Butler blue has managed to get in a rhythm. The rest of the team had been 0 for 4 before Shelvin Mack hit a short jumper moments ago.

Michigan State leads 18-14 with 11:02 left before halftime.

Speaking of Hayward, he said there haven’t been too many “wow” moments during this dream week in Indianapolis — except for that phone call Tuesday night from tennis star Andy Roddick.

“He’s just such a superstar, so for him to call, that was really cool,” Hayward said earlier in the week. “You know, I didn’t really think about it at first and then I had to listen to it again. He said ‘Hey, Gordon this is Andy Roddick’ and I was just like ‘Wow!’”

Hayward was nearly as good at tennis as he was basketball in high school.

Draymond Green has come off the bench to provide a spark for Michigan State, hitting a pair of baskets during a 10-2 run that answered seven straight points by Butler.

Green seems to be a little bit hobbled, too, reacting slowly on defense and moving poorly on offense. But at this time of the year, some bumps and bruises are only natural.

Raymar Morgan just checked in with two fouls for Michigan State, taking the place of Green, who plopped down on the bench with a towel over his knees.

The referees have been quick on the whistle, and foul trouble could become a story line because both teams play physical on defense and prefer low-scoring games.

Raymar Morgan already had a pair of fouls with 15 minutes left in the first half, and the Spartans have four as a team.

Butler players were asked before the game how they would deal with a team from the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, and guard Ronald Nored said the Bulldogs wouldn’t back down.

“We’re going to have to match their physicality, we’re going to have to match their toughness,” Nored said. “We’re going to have to match them on the boards.”

Butler big man Matt Howard also has two fouls with 14 minutes left.

More injury woes for Michigan State already.

Korie Lucious limped off the court with a gimpy right foot or ankle, moments after a pass helped setup an easy bucket for Raymar Morgan to make it 8-7 in favor of the Spartans.

Michigan State is already missing Kalin Lucas in the backcourt, and losing Lucious would be a significant blow — especially considering Delvon Roe is playing on his own injured knee.

This is a team that has been resilient all season, though, playing through a flu that swept up and down the roster and injuries that have seemingly affected everybody. Morgan sprained his ankle, Chris Allen had a groin injury, and on and on it goes.

Lucious checked out of the game at the first media timeout, but is already set to check back in.

It’s a party on the perimeter in the first couple minutes of the Final Four opener.

Korie Lucious hit two 3-pointers for Michigan State, making the green-clad fans in Indy forget all about injured point guard Kalin Lucas, before Gordon Hayward knocked down two straight of his own to tie the score 6-all about 3 minutes in.

The fans are loving it, but Tom Izzo might not be.

The Michigan State coach was upset that Lucious left his shooting arm up for a bit after his second 3-pointer. Izzo stomped his feet to get his guard’s attention and tapped his forehead to tell him to think twice, then went back to the bench muttering.

Butler players were introduced moments ago, and one of the quaint rituals — as if there aren’t enough for the small, hometown school — was each player greeting Blue II.

That’s the Bulldogs’ mascot.

He was making the rounds at Lucas Oil Stadium before his team played Michigan State. He hung with the guys from CBS, posed for pictures with adoring fans and got a pat on the head from former Butler coach Thad Matta, now at Ohio State.

He was on his best behavior, too. He didn’t even bark when the Spartans walked by.

Magic Johnson made his way to his seat moments ago, flashing that enormous smile, slapping high-fives with the face-painted Michigan State fans in the front row of the student section.

Even for the Magic Man, this never gets old.

“This is what you live for. This is what it’s all about,” he said. “I love it.”

The MVP of Michigan State’s epic 1979 NCAA title, Johnson was in St. Louis last week to cheer on the Spartans in both rounds of the Midwest Regional, and entered Lucas Oil Stadium for the national semifinal against Butler like a conquering hero returning home.

“It’s a great moment. We’re back again and I think this year is more special because nobody expected us to be here,” Johnson said. “It’s so special.”

It hasn’t been easy for Butler or Michigan State on the road to Indianapolis.

The Bulldogs had perhaps the easiest game of anybody left in the opening round against UTEP, breezing to a 77-59 victory. The Bulldogs then squeaked by 13th-seeded Murray State by two, upended No. 1 seed Syracuse by four, and struggled to a seven-point win over second-seeded Kansas State in a game that was much closer most of the way.

If that’s impressive, consider that Michigan State won its four games by a whopping 13 points — combined. It was the lowest margin for a Final Four team since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 in 1985.

The run began with a 70-67 win over New Mexico State, then came a two-point victory over Maryland in which the Spartans lost star guard Kalin Lucas to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. The injury hasn’t slowed them down, though, in a 59-52 win over Northern Iowa and a 70-69 thriller in the Midwest Regional final against Tennessee.

Colts president Bill Polian brought his son and daughter-in-law to the Final Four.

Just 2½ months ago, Lucas Oil Stadium was the site of the AFC championship. Now it’s been turned into a basketball arena where Michigan State, Butler, West Virginia and Duke will play.

And it was no surprise who Polian, architect of Super Bowl teams in the small-market towns of Buffalo and Indy, was rooting for Saturday. Of course he wanted the small-school guys.

“It’s been an exciting year for Indianapolis sports,” Polian said. “We pull, for the ‘Dawgs every week, so today is no exception.”

Butler fans are ready to party — six miles away from Lucas Oil Stadium.

With ribbons tied around trees and street posts, students, parents and alums started lining up outside of historic Hinkle Fieldhouse more than 2½ hours before tipoff and 75 minutes before doors opened for the school’s viewing party.

Some fans pulled coolers on rolling carts around campus, clearly preparing for a long night, and one Greek organization painted a basketball and Butler’s logo on its front lawn.

Nobody was complaining.

“Hey there’s nothing wrong with camping out, right?” asked freshman Stephanie Holgin.

That’s right.

It begins at last, after three weeks of thrillers and failures, dreams made and dreams dashed. Nearly every office bracket has been turned to confetti, so all that remains are four teams that have weathered the madness to reach college basketball’s biggest stage.

Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis. The Final Four.

The scrappy hometown school, Butler, begins the festivities by taking on Michigan State, which is playing in its second straight Final Four under a coach who is better than just about any other when it comes to tournament play.

The Bulldogs will certainly have the homecourt advantage, but the Spartans know something about that. They played in the championship game against North Carolina at Ford Field a year ago, just a short drive from their East Lansing campus. The Tar Heels routed Michigan State.

The first game will be followed by West Virginia and irascible coach Bob Huggins, still in search of his first national championship, against the blueblood Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski, who consider it a disappointment when they miss the tournament’s final weekend.

They’re here now, all four of them are, but only two can play on.

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