AUDIO HIGHLIGHTS (1070 The Fan)
MILWAUKEE, WIS. -- Senior Shawn Vanzant scored all his team-high 18 points in the final 13 minutes of the game to help lead Butler past Cleveland State, 76-68, in the semifinals of the 2011 Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship at U. S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, Wis., on Saturday (March 5). The win sends Butler to a league-record sixth straight tournament championship game.
With the Bulldogs (22-9) clinging to a 60-58 lead and just over five minutes remaining, Vanzant nailed back-to-back three-point field goals to stretch the margin to eight points. He went on to score six more points in the final 1:12 to help Butler secure its eighth consecutive victory.
"Whether it's playing defense or shooting the ball, I'm going to do what's needed to win," said Vanzant when asked about his late scoring surge.
The 6-1 guard conceded that his first three-pointer boosted his confidence down the stretch.
"The way I was playing early in the game, it probably wasn't a good shot, but I just stepped up with confidence and coach told me to shoot the ball and knock it in."
Butler never trailed in the game, but Cleveland State (26-8) stayed within striking distance throughout behind the one-two punch of Horizon League Player of the Year Norris Cole and junior guard Trevon Harmon. The two backcourt standouts combined for 42 of the Vikings' 68 points.
Butler led by six, 41-35, at halftime, but the Vikings trimmed that margin to one, 45-44, in the first six minutes of the second half. Sophomore Andrew Smith answered for the Bulldogs with a lay-up and then Vanzant scored his first points of the game on a pair of free throws with 12:48 remaining.
Vanzant hit the first of his four three-pointers with 10:07 left to give Butler a 54-46 advantage, and he gave the Bulldogs a double-digits lead, 58-48, with a free throw at 8:06. The 18 points scored by the Tampa, Fla., native were a season-high, just two points off his career-high. His four three-point field goals were a career-high.
Junior Shelvin Mack, who helped Butler to a solid start, scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half, while Smith added 10 of his 12 points in the initial 20 minutes. Senior Matt Howard gave the Bulldogs four players in double-figures with 14 points.
Cole led all scorers with 24 points, while Harmon added 18. The victory was Butler's third over the Vikings this season.
Butler will face host and top-seeded Milwaukee, a 70-63 winner over Valparaiso, in the tournament championship game at U. S. Cellular Arena at 9 p.m. (ET) on Tuesday, March 8. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
Photos by John Fetcho