The ending of last year’s game between Butler and Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament might have been the most memorable finish of the season. This season, the Bulldogs might be part of the most exciting ending once again – but on the losing end this time.
Butler blew a 12-point lead in the second half against Evansville, en route to an 80-77 defeat. The end of regulation and overtime will undoubtedly leave a sour taste in the mouth of the Bulldogs.
In regulation, Evansville tied the game on a Colt Ryan free throw with 0.9 seconds left after a controversial foul sent him to the line. On the ensuing possession, Butler threw the ball the length of the court to Andrew Smith, who made a four-footer at the buzzer to win it – or so everything thought. The refs called a foul with 0.2 seconds left, although the lights on the backboard at Evansville’s new arena didn’t light up when the clock struck triple zero, meaning it was difficult to tell whether if Smith got the shot off in time.
Evansville head coach Marty Simmons did not think Smith got the shot off in time.
With 0.2 seconds left, Smith clanked both free throws, sending the game into overtime. In the final minute of the extra session, with Evansville up by one, Ryan drove to the rim and missed. Smith got rebound, but Ryan – while standing out of bounds – knocked the ball out of his hands and laid it in. Evansville held on from there.
“More than anything, we feel fortunate,” Simmons said by phone after the game. “That game could’ve went either way. We just have so much respect for them. When you’re able to beat them, it feels good.”
Ryan finished with 23 points, six rebounds and five steals for Evansville, while Smith went for 21 points and nine rebounds for Butler. Chrishawn Hopkins had 22 points and five assists for Brad Stevens’ troops.
When Butler lost to Division-II Northern State last week, it was clear that this season would be a rebuilding one for the Bulldogs.
Saturday’s overtime loss to Evansville only cements that assertion – even though the Bulldogs also lost to the Aces in November last season, before turning things around and making a run to the title game.
This is simply not the same team as last year. There’s no Shelvin Mack to bail Butler out when the shot clock is winding down, and there are not enough outside shooters to take the pressure off Smith down low. Khyle Marshall was expected to have a breakout season, but he only finished with six points and four fouls. Highly-touted freshmen Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods both did not play for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Can Butler bounce back and win the Horizon? Of course – it’s only November 12, the Bulldogs do have talent on the roster and this was certainly a fluky loss. Moreover, if Smith hit one of his two free throws, we probably wouldn’t even be writing this post.
“I think they’re really good,” Simmons said. “They lost some really great players, but they have a great system of play and they have really good players. Their staff puts them in position to win. They’re really difficult team to play against. They have a lot of really, really good pieces.”
With that said, Stevens does have his work cut out for him this season.
As for Evansville, Simmons is hoping the win gives the Aces some momentum going forward.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’m really proud of our guys, the way they were able to hang in there. It was a gut check.”
For both teams.