LEXINGTON – In the final 14 seconds of its NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament game with Marquette on Thursday, no one thought a Butler victory was possible. But that is what the Bulldogs have become famous for, performing the impossible and then walking away humbly and happy.
Butler almost pulled off the stunt again – twice. But in the end, magic was superseded by toughness, and the Bulldogs fell 74-72 at Rupp Arena in front of 20,601 fans.
“Our guys played their hearts out,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “They have nothing to be ashamed about.”
Butler needed a miracle play late in the defeat on two separate occasions and got them. The Bulldogs just couldn't finish the tricks.
Roosevelt Jones' missed free throw with 14 seconds remaining was fumbled out of bounds by a pair of Golden Eagles. Instead of trailing 72-71 and Marquette having possession; Butler now had the ball and a chance to take the lead.
Rotnei Clarke got a great look, but airballed a 3-pointer, something that he never does.
Moments later, Marquette led 74-72 with 2.4 seconds on the clock, but threw the inbound pass away. Again, the Bulldogs had life.
However, the inbound play never developed and a throw by Andrew Smith caromed off of the backboard. A Stevens-designed play never had a chance, something that never happens.
Such was the night for Butler. The Bulldogs simply weren't themselves in too many regards and at to critical of times. And they still almost won.
“That's one of the reasons why you don't want to put yourself in that position with 2.4 seconds,” Stevens said.
The Bulldogs found themselves in that unenviable position because everything that they did well in the first 20 minutes, went awry in the final half.
Marquette is a simple team coached by a self-admitted simple man, Buzz Williams.
The Golden Eagles want to pound teams with 565 pounds of manhood in centers Chris Otule and Davante Gardner.
Secondly, the Golden Eagles want to get to the free throw line.
And lastly, the Golden Eagles want to get guard Vander Blue driving on teams when their focus is solely on the post.
In the second half, Williams' team could mark checks on all three of those boxes.
After holding Blue to a pair of baskets, as it built a 35-27 lead at halftime, Butler allowed him to score seven times in the second half and he finished with a game-best 29 points.
“He's just a hard guy to stop,” Stevens said.
After limiting Marquette to just four inside baskets in the first half, the Bulldogs allowed a dozen made shots in or near the paint in the second half. The Golden Eagles finished the evening outscoring Butler 30-20 in the paint.
And lastly, the Golden Eagles (25-8) got to the free throw line as many times as they wished (27), and they were productive while there (23 makes).
Add in the fact that Butler turned the ball over 15 times and it was simply to dire of straits to try and remedy with magic.
Clarke paced the Bulldogs (27-9) with 24 points, while Smith chipped in 17 points and eight rebounds.
“We're going to go back and wish we could have controlled a few things a little bit better,” Stevens said. “But you do that with any loss.
“We've been here before. We've lived it and we'll move on.”