BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA (TICKER) —In a six-second span, Butler made up for lost time.
Snubbed by the NCAA Tournament last season, 12th-seeded Butler pulled off a stunner as Brandon Miller made a running one-hander with six seconds left en route to a 47-46 victory over fifth seed Mississippi State in the East Region.
Atoning for a turnover one possession earlier, Miller picked up a screen near the free-throw line, drove into the lane and hit the one-handed shot to give Butler (26-5) the lead.
“Nothing compares to hitting a shot like that,” said Miller, who scored 14 points. “It’s something that you dream of from when you are 7-years-old to when you are 23-years-old.”
“They say tournament games are won by seniors, and we’ve got one heck of a senior in Brandon Miller,” forward Joel Cornette said.
Mississippi State (21-10) had one possession to win it, but Timmy Bowers missed an open 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer, and his team became the only five seed to lose in this year’s first round.
“I wanted the ball for the last shot,” said Bowers, who was defending Miller on the game-winning basket. “As soon as it left my hand, I knew it wasn’t good. I felt like I rushed the shot, I just knew it wasn’t going in.”
As soon as the ball hit the front of the rim, Butler went into hysterics, with players jumping onto the scorer’s table in celebration. But who could blame them?
Last year, Butler was snubbed as an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after going 25-5. It was selected this season after posting the same record, but many thought the team didn’t belong.
“All we heard was how we weren’t supposed to be here,” said Cornette, who had nine points and six rebounds. “Well, we’re here, for two more days anyway.
“Most people know we should have been in last year, so the way I look at it, we’re making up for lost time.”
Butler, which won a tournament game for the second time in its last three appearances, faces fourth seed Louisville in the second round Sunday.
“We had to believe that we could beat them, perform at a high level and execute our game plan,” Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. “We have tremendous team chemistry and these guys are a wonderful group to coach.”
Butler got off to a great start in a game between two teams named the Bulldogs, scoring 12 straight points to grab a 12-3 lead with 11:48 left in the first half.
Mississippi State scored the next seven points, but Butler led the rest of a close half, nursing a 28-25 edge at the break.
Star forward Mario Austin scored six of his 18 points during a 10-4 run to start the second half as Mississippi State took a 35-32 lead with 14:28 to play. It was no worse than tied until Mike Monserez hit a 3-pointer for a 45-44 Butler lead with 1:55 left.
Mississippi State regained the advantage when Ontario Harper made a pair of free throws with 93 seconds remaining. Miller then threw away a pass on Butler’s ensuing possession.
The favored Bulldogs were unable to take advantage as Michal Ignerski missed a 3-pointer, setting the scene for Miller’s heroics.
Duane Lightfoot Jr. scored 13 points for Butler, which shot just 38 percent from the field. Miller, Lightfoot and Cornette combined for 36 points on 15-of-32 shooting while their teammates went 3-of-15 for 11 points.
Like Mississippi State, Butler struggled from the field and played smothering defense. The Southeastern Conference school shot 36 percent (16-of-44), with Austin, Bowers and Winsome Frazier totaling 36 points.
“You have to give Butler credit,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “They had the key to the ballgame. They took control of the defense with their offense. The had the edge in controlling the game. They did what they do best.”