March 21, 2003
By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - With one huge shot, Brandon Miller erased any doubt about whether Butler belongs in the NCAA tournament.
Miller's runner in the lane with 6.2 seconds left carried the 12th-seeded Bulldogs past No. 5 Mississippi State 47-46 in the first round of the East Regional on Friday night.
"To hit a shot like that in the NCAA tournament, nothing compares to it," Miller said. "It's something you dream about when you're a kid. It's something you dream about when you're 23. Definitely the biggest shot of my career."
"To hit a shot like that in the NCAA tournament, nothing compares to it. It's something you dream about when you're a kid. It's something you dream about when you're 23. Definitely the biggest shot of my career."
- Senior Guard Brandon Miller
Maybe the biggest ever for Butler (26-5), which faces Rick Pitino and fourth-seeded Louisville on Sunday.
After the clock ran out, a euphoric Miller raced around the court pumping his fist in the air, while teammate Mike Monserez jumped onto a press table waving his arms at Butler's fans. The Bulldog players came back onto the court and gathered in front of their bench a few minutes later, relishing in the victory.
Michael Ignerski missed a fadeaway jumper with 25 seconds left for Mississippi State (21-10). The 6-foot Miller then brought the ball up the court and hit the running shot in traffic.
"We had run that play so many times before, I was just trying to come off the screen and see what the defense gave me," said Miller, a senior transfer from Southwest Missouri State. "I had the little runner open. That was a shot I didn't have when I came to Butler, a shot that coach (Todd) Lickliter taught me."
Mississippi State's Timmy Bowers overshot on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Butler won acclaim at the NCAA tournament three years ago by taking Florida to overtime as a No. 12 seed, and the Bulldogs gained a bona fide reputation when they upset Wake Forest in 2001. Now the Horizon League regular-season champions can add another entry to their history of upsets.
Butler felt jilted last year when it failed to get invited to the tournament, despite a 25-5 record. But this time, the Bulldogs proved they belong.
"We just felt like we were making up for lost time," Duane Lightfoot said, "because we felt like we got snubbed last year."
Miller had 14 points and Lightfoot added 13 for Butler, which received an at-large berth for the first time since 1962.
Mario Austin had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Mississippi State.
Butler took a 45-44 lead when Michael Monserez picked up a loose ball and drilled a wide-open 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:55 left. Ontario Harper hit two free throws 22 seconds later - his first points - to flip-flop the lead again.
Miller got trapped in the lane and threw the ball away, giving it back to Mississippi State with 1:33 left. But he more than made up for that with the game-winner.
"I didn't see exactly what happened," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He made a tough shot. He kind of flipped it up there."
Not surprisingly, it wasn't a flashy, high-scoring game. Both teams rank among the nation's top defensive teams, giving up just over 60 points per game, and they favor setting up in half-court offensive sets.
It was a huge contrast to Louisville's full-court press in the previous game, setting up a clash in styles for Sunday.
Butler clearly wasn't intimidated by the SEC Western Division champs, jumping out to a 12-3 lead.
"When you have tremendous respect for your opponent, your focus is very good," Lickliter said. "When these guys saw who we were playing, I think they all really tuned in and focused on what we were trying to do."
Mississippi State lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991, spanning three trips.
"Right now, my feelings are that we didn't finish what we started," guard Derrick Zimmerman said. "It's so frustrating."