First-class March Madness

March 20th, 2011 at 11:13 am by under Sports

Who knew it was possible to pack that much drama, devastation and sheer delight into the final 2.2 seconds of any sporting event?

Butler sophomore Andrew Smith hit – what everyone at the Verizon Center assumed – would be the game-winning bucket with just over two seconds to play in Saturday’s slug-fest between No. 8 Butler and No. 1 Pittsburgh in the third round of the N.C.A.A. Tournament.

As it turns out, there was still a lot more basketball left to play.

With 1.4 seconds remaining, Shelvin Mack committed what he called “probably the worst foul in Butler history” on Pittsburgh’s Gilbert Brown near mid-court.

The feeling of shock and disbelief on Butler’s bench was palpable from where I was sitting 50 feet away.

“Once the call was made, I realized that was the dumbest mistake of my life,” Mack said.

His record setting 30-point performance (that’s seven points more than any Butler player has scored in any N.C.A.A. Tournament game) almost became a footnote in last night’s epic finish.

“I’m like – ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me,’” said Butler freshman Khyle Marshall.  “We make a big play on the offensive end and then we’re gonna mess it up at half-court…My mind was just everywhere.  I can’t believe all this work is about to go to waste.”

Gilbert Brown was the best Pittsburgh player on the floor Saturday night. He shoots 78-percent from the charity stripe and had yet to miss a free throw the entire evening.  But the very last one he took – the most important one – appeared to be going in and then inexplicably rimmed out.  Howard grabbed the rebound and the rest is history.

“I knew we didn’t’ have any timeouts,” said the senior star.  “I had the ball, my reaction was to look up court and I felt his arm come across me so I just threw the ball towards the rim.”

The officials called a foul on Nasir Robinson, and the dumbest foul in Butler history was one-upped by the dumbest foul in Pittsburgh history.  So with the game tied at 70 and 0.8 seconds remaining, Howard stepped to the line.

“I honestly felt really calm about it,” Howard said.   “Coach just told me to make the first one and miss the second one on purpose.  So that’s what I went up and did.”

“It was the craziest two minutes of my life,” Mack said.  “You go from the very bottom – almost costing your team the season, to getting another possession and Matt saving me with his free throw.”

For the second time in as many games Howard scored the final bucket, in the final second, to breathe life into Butler’s postseason and extend his college career for at least another five days.

“Everything that kid does – he’s made Butler better,” head coach Brad Stevens said.  “Like how many guys can say that?  He has made a whole university better, and I respect him a great deal for that.”

Apart from the empathy you feel for Pittsburgh (and you should feel empathetic when you consider the Panthers shot 56 percent, out-rebounded Butler 31-21…and still lost) there is one other thing that’s too bad about last night.  Those two egregious fouls in the final 2.2 seconds will forever define a game that should rank among one of the greatest ever played because of the first 39 minutes and 57.8 seconds.

Andrew Smith had made just one field goal all night until he hit the go-ahead bucket in the final two seconds.  Matt Howard drew more offensive fouls than Big Baby Davis does at the TD Banknorth Garden.  Freshman Khyle Marshall played like a senior, and defensive guru Ronald Nored shut down Ashton Gibbs – one of the hottest shooters in the country coming into last night’s game.  Those are just a few note-worthy story lines doomed to be overlooked.

Somehow though, I have the feeling that’s quite all right with the Dogs.

Butler will face No. 4 Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 next Thursday in New Orleans.

I think Zach Hahn summed things up nicely last night when I asked him to quantify what the last three days has been like for this team.

“It’s just a really great time to be a Butler Bulldog.”

One Response to “First-class March Madness”

  1. Mike Magan says:

    I love Zach Hahn, but the kid gets a lot of ink for as litle as he plays. He has singlehandedly beat rivals during the season, but never gets to play much in postseason. Why does he get so much “ink” and why does he miss action.