(USA Today Sports Images)
Coach Brad Stevens has led Butler to two national title games in the past three years, but on Saturday the Bulldogs provided fans probably their greatest regular-season thrill with an 88-86 win over Indiana.
Butler knocked off the top-ranked team in the nation for the first time in school history and did it in quintessential Butler fashion with the game-winning shot coming in overtime from a walk-on role player who scored two points all of last season and 12 in the Bulldogs' first nine games this season.
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Alex Barlow's short jumper found its way just as the Butler program has under Stevens' leadership. It wasn't pretty but it got the job done in the Crossroad Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Stevens built Butler with the guts and hard work of dozens of overlooked and under-appreciated players such as Barlow who seem to rise to the moment time after time.
Stevens might have been right earlier this week when he said Indiana is the best team in the nation, but he was off the mark when he said he wasn't "sure it's that close." The Hoosiers certainly remain a favorite to win the championship, but this loss will leave them with some doubt to overcome as much as it will provide future opponents evidence of vulnerability.
The Bulldogs nearly gave away the historic win by surrendering a seven-point lead in the final two minutes and allowing the Hoosiers to force overtime. Then they fell behind early in the extra period only to battle back and snatch the prize at the end.
Butler now boasts victories over North Carolina, Marquette and Indiana, and it accomplished Saturday's feat with Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Smith on the bench throughout overtime and with Erik Fromm joining them for part of the extra period. Those wins are going to look good in March when the selection committee is deciding where to seed the Bulldogs.
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