Butler returns to title game
HOUSTON – Butler is back in the national championship game, largely because of two of the guys who helped get them there last year.
Junior Shelvin Mack and senior Matt Howard helped the Bulldogs sustain an early barrage of 3-pointers from Virginia Commonwealth and stabilized a 70-62 win Saturday at Reliant Stadium.
“There is no better team that I’ve been around as far as caring about one another and doing it through adversity and success,’ coach Brad Stevens said of his team that was seeded eighth and lost five games in the Horizon League. “They are unbelievable.”
Mack finished with 24 points, Howard 17, including an 11-of-12 effort from the free-throw line. The Bulldogs made good on 20-of-26 free throws.
Mack helped beat the Rams at their own game, knocking down 5-of-6 3-pointers.
Howard picked up his fourth foul midway though the second half, but Mack picked up the slack.
“My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in position,” Mack said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Another senior, Zach Hahn, was clutch for the Bulldogs, finishing with eight points and knocking down a pair of 3-pointers early in the second half to help fend off a VCU run.
It can thank the veterans for helping them take the tempo away from the Rams (28-12) keeping them from running up and down the court and continuing their tear from the First Four to the Final Four.
Butler led 34-28 at the half after trailing by as many as six points early in the first 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs got the Rams into some foul trouble early and made the best of it, converting 11-of 13 free throws in the first half to get the edge. VCU, meanwhile, went to the line just four times, making two, over that span. The were 8-of-13 from the line for the game.
The upperclassmen’s effort offset a huge performance by VCU’s Jamie Skeen, who finished with 27 points.
Experience clearly matters in the Big Dance and Butler has it in abundance.
“Last year we didn’t get it done and that’s in the back of our minds,” Mack said.
They get another chance to finish things on Monday.