Willwerth: Butler’s Magical Ride Continues

By Brian Willwerth

Saturday’s NCAA tournament action featured plenty of thrilling moments: a double-OT game between Temple and San Diego State, Wisconsin surviving Kansas State on a last-second block and Richmond advancing to the Sweet Sixtween as a #12 seed.

But the game that generated the most buzz happened at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.: a Southeast region matchup between #8 Butler and #1 Pittsburgh.  It was a tremendous matchup for 59 minutes.  But it’s the final 3 seconds that everyone’s talking about.

Butler’s Andrew Smith gave the Bulldogs a one-point lead.  Pittsburgh had to go the length of the court with no timeouts. But with 0.9 left on the clock, Pitt’s Gilbert Brown was bumped around half-court by Shelvin Mack.

Brown stepped to the line. His first attempt tied the game.  His second, which would’ve given the Panthers the lead and perhaps the win, bounced off the rim. Butler’s Matt Howard grabbed the rebound and all the fans immediately thought, “so we’re heading to overtime, right?”

Think again. Nasir Robinson hit Howard on the arm before the horn sounded. Howard went to the line at the other end of the court.  He made the first, and intentionally missed the second.  There would be no more fouls in this contest.

Butler 71, Pittsburgh 70.

After reading various accounts of the crazy final seconds online, it amazed me how many people considered the fouls to be controversial.  Look at the replays yourself.  Both fouls were just that, fouls.  Both had to be called.  Some fans may argue that the officials decided the game, and not the players.  Well, if neither foul is called, Smith’s basket ends up being the game-winner for Butler.  If Brown had made the second free throw, Pitt would still be dancing today.  Either way, the nation’s capital played host to the game of the tournament to-date.

Imagine what Gus Johnson would’ve said about all of this had he been court side?

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