INDIANAPOLIS – The Butler Bulldogs are going to the national championship game. The Dawgs got 19 points and nine rebounds from Gordon Hayward as BU defeated Midwest Region champ Michigan State, 52-50, in Saturday night’s first national semifinal. Butler will play in Monday night’s national championship game against Duke.
Butler (33-4) has captured the nation’s attention with its thrilling NCAA Tournament run, culminated by playing on the sport’s biggest stage just down the street from campus. And like the previous games, the Bulldogs found a way to win down the stretch.
“You know, this team and this program has been built on guys ready to come in and contribute to the good of the team,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “It makes me proud to be their coach.”
The game was tight throughout, with neither team ever leading by more than seven points. BU took the lead for good at the 17:42 mark and managed to hold off the Spartans (28-9) in the final minutes. Butler led 50-47 in the final minute when Michigan State’s Draymond Green made two free throws with 56 seconds remaining to pull Michigan State within 50-49. The Spartans then got a stop and called timeout with 23 seconds left.
With the clock winding down, MSU went again to Green, whose shot was altered by Hayward. Ronald Nored pulled down the rebound and was fouled with 6 seconds left in the game. He calmly knocked down two free throws to put the Bulldogs up 52-50.
“I saw a picture of me shooting free throws in warm-ups from San Jose and Utah. I was short. I shot so many short,” Nored said. “So I just wanted to get my elbow under and just finish high, and then flick my wrist.”
After a timeout, the Spartans had one last look. Butler fouled with 2 seconds left to put MSU’s Korie Lucious on the free throw line rather than risk allowing a 3-pointer. Lucious made the first and intentionally missed the second.
Hayward secured the rebound as time expired, sending the mostly pro-Butler crowd into a frenzy.
Shelvin Mack, who played sparingly in the second half due to injury, added 14 points for BU. Michigan State was led by Durrell Summers’ 14 points and 10 rebounds. Lucious and Green each added 12.
“I take my hat off to Butler. They play as hard as anybody we’ve played,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Hayward and Mack carried the Bulldogs in the first half, combining for 25 points and all of the team’s made baskets. The duo scored 22 of BU’s first 23 points. Butler had a brief 7-6 lead early but MSU led most of the game’s first 20 minutes. Butler finished with a flurry though, finishing the half on a 5-0 run to make it 28-28 at halftime.
With the win, the university is at an all-time high. But the Bulldogs have used a humble approach and laser-like focus to build a 25-game win streak and a berth in the national championship game.
“We might not have believed it when we said it in our first team meeting in the fall, but if we focus and do our jobs, then why can’t we play for a national championship?” Stevens said. “That’s been our focus all along.”