PHOTO GALLERY (photos by John Fetcho)
NEW ORLEANS - For the second consecutive year, the Butler men's basketball team has captured the eyes of the nation. For the next week, the Butler Bulldogs will be the top story in all of sports as they head to the NCAA Final Four in Houston.
Junior guard Shelvin Mack scored 27 points, including five in overtime, and Butler returned to the Final Four with a 74-71 victory over Florida on Saturday. Mack, who scored 30 against Pittsburgh last week and hit a late bucket to ice the Elite 8 win over Wisconsin, was named Most Outstanding Player of the Southeast Region.
Senior Matt Howard scored 14 and was named to the all-region team with Mack and three players from Florida. Freshman Khyle Marshall added 10 for the Bulldogs (27-9), who showed again they simply won't give in, erasing an 11-point deficit in the second half.
"I'm incredibly proud of these guys," head coach Brad Stevens said. "They carried their coach today in a big way. I was saying I got out‑coached big time. But our assistants did a great job and our players did a great job...just a special group. We're really lucky that they're Butler Bulldogs."
Mack's 3-pointer with 1:21 left in overtime gave Butler the lead for good at 72-70.
Florida guard Kenny Boynton missed a long 3-pointer that could have given Florida (29-8) the lead with a little less than 20 seconds left. Florida's Alex Tyus appeared to have the offensive rebound, but Howard tied him up and the possession arrow favored Butler.
Florida had to foul Mack with 10.6 seconds to go, and he hit both shots for the final margin.
UF's Vernon Macklin had a career-high 25 points for No. 4 seed Florida, the third straight higher seed from a major conference to be vanquished by the Bulldogs.
Boynton finished with 17 points and Tyus had his second straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
In regulation, the Bulldogs made 10 of 20 free throws and shot 39.6 percent (21 of 53), including 8 of 30 from 3-point range. Yet they somehow found a way to survive to overtime, when they hit all seven foul shots and buried three 3-pointers.
Despite being out-sized at several positions, Butler also out-rebounded the Gators, 41-34. Sophomore Andrew Smith led BU with eight rebounds and Marshall and senior Shawn Vanzant each pulled in seven boards.
Along with Marshall, Butler got tremendous minutes off the bench from freshman guard Chrishawn Hopkins, who hadn't played in an NCAA Tournament game. Hopkins gave the Dawgs a lift in the second half, hitting a trey and throwing a no-look pass to Howard for a lay-up.
Now the Bulldogs are one win away from a second straight appearance in the national championship game.