CHICAGO (AP) - There was no celebration, just a big sigh of relief.
No one needed to remind No. 8 Butler that it just escaped or that the schedule is about to get tougher. Much tougher.
"We've still got a lot of work to do," A.J. Graves said.
That was clear Wednesday night.
Graves scored 14 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute, and No. 8 Butler closed in on the top seed in the Horizon League Tournament by beating Illinois at Chicago 51-46.
The victory was the ninth straight for the Bulldogs and their 54th since the start of last season, giving them the best two-year win total in conference history. Now, their magic number for clinching the top seed over Wright State is one, but this night was more nightmarish than magical until the closing seconds.
UIC had just tied it at 46 on a three-point play by Jermaine Dailey when Graves hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 45 seconds left. The Flames' Scott VanderMeer missed down low, and Mike Green grabbed the rebound for Butler (25-2, 14-2) while getting fouled.
The Flames then committed four more quick ones before Green missed the front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds left - Butler's first free-throw attempt. VanderMeer got the rebound, and after a timeout, Josh Mayo missed a three-pointer with about four seconds left.
Graves then hit two free throws for the final score.
Things don't get easier for the Bulldogs, who have three games left - starting with Saturday's matchup against No. 16 Drake.
"I think they're a team like us," Graves said. "They like to spread you out and shoot threes."
And they like to play zone, meaning the Bulldogs could be in trouble if they shoot the way they did on Wednesday. UIC took a calculated by playing zone and daring them to shoot the three, even though they had hit 38 percent before this game.
"We knew 3-pointers are back-breakers," UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. "They can all shoot the three, but we figured we had a pretty good chance to win."
Butler coach Brad Stevens called it "a great risk" - as in a good decision by Collins.
Graves hit 4 of 10 from the outside. Pete Campbell converted 4 of 11 threes and scored 12 points, and Butler rarely penetrated. All but 10 of the Bulldogs' 47 field goals were three-pointers, and they hit just 13 from long range. The 37 attempts were a season-high, and because they kept firing away, they took just three free throws.
"I thought we had open looks all night long," Graves said. "They definitely made it tough on us, but the looks that we did get were nice looks. We just didn't knock them down. But you have that some nights."
UIC (14-13, 8-8) had it, too, going just 18-of-54 from the field and 2-for-14 from the outside, while wasting solid efforts by Mayo, Dailey and VanderMeer.
Mayo, the conference's second-leading scorer, had 15 points. Dailey hit all six shots and scored 13 to go with eight rebounds, and VanderMeer finished with 10 points and six boards.
UIC beat then-No. 12 Butler at home in overtime last season, and with an 11-1 record at the UIC Pavilion entering this game, the Flames were hoping for a repeat. Instead, there was just a close call.
"I think Mayo's a better player this time around," Graves said.
"He's doing really well this year, and it was hard to try to stop
him. They played really well on the inside with VanderMeer, as