Butler’s 3 lifts West Virginia in Big East tourney

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NEW YORK (AP)—The Big East’s day of quarterfinal upsets ended with an unlikely long shot.

West Virginia became the only one of the conference’s top four seeds to advance to the semifinals when Da’Sean Butler took an inbounds pass and banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the seventh-ranked Mountaineers a 54-51 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday night.

The third-seeded Mountaineers (25-6) will face seventh-seeded Notre Dame, which beat second-seeded Pittsburgh, on Friday night.

The other semifinal will have eighth-seeded Georgetown, which eliminated top-seeded and third-ranked Syracuse, against fifth-seeded Marquette. The Golden Eagles beat fourth-seeded and 10th-ranked Villanova.

The top four teams in the 16-member conference were given double byes to the quarterfinals. Combined with last season’s tournament, the first when all the schools were invited to New York, the top four seeds have a 3-5 record in the quarterfinals.

“I’m not a fan of the double bye but I don’t know that that had that much to do it with it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of the day of upsets. “We played pretty well early. … I thought we had a chance to kind of break their back and we kind of let up.”

The Mountaineers did take the opportunity to break the hearts of the Bearcats.

“Just right now I feel really bad for my players,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “They deserved a much better ending. Win, lose or draw, it’s a tough way to lose a game when a guy banks in a shot.”

Cincinnati (18-15) had a chance to win the game, but Dion Dixon lost the ball along the sideline with 3.1 seconds remaining to give West Virginia the final shot.

“He just got it in a hurry,” Cronin said. “We would have liked him to catch it. … He turned and dribbled it too fast. He was out of control before he even put it on the floor. I feel bad for him. He’s devastated right now.”

Butler finished with 15 points, while Lance Stephenson led the Bearcats with 19 points.

Stephenson, the conference’s Rookie of the Year, tied the game at 51 on a 3-pointer with 42 seconds to play. Following a timeout, West Virginia couldn’t get a shot off and turned the ball over on a shot-clock violation with 6.4 seconds to go.

Dixon, covered by Butler, couldn’t control the ball as he headed toward the sideline and turned it over with 3.1 seconds left. Devin Ebanks then inbounded the ball to Butler, who took one move and let it fly over an outstretched Stephenson while straddling the NBA’s 3-point line.

When the ball went through, Dixon dropped to his knees in front of the Cincinnati bench.

“Honestly, I was supposed to just catch the ball and get a couple of dribbles inside the 3-point line,” Butler said. “When I got the ball he kind of pressed up on me. So I kind of lost my balance, and by the time I squared up, I only had time to take one dribble instead of two or three. And when I took one dribble I put it up. I felt good. I saw it hit the glass, I said, ‘Oh it’s fine.’ It fell right in there. I said, ‘All right, it went in. Thank God.”’

Stephenson said: “I tried my hardest to strip him but he made an incredible move and an incredible shot. I was all over him, nothing I could do. I couldn’t do nothing different. I actually fouled him.”

Kevin Jones had 17 points for West Virginia, which has won six of its last seven games and is in the semifinals for the third straight year. The Mountaineers have reached the finals once, losing to Syracuse in 2005.

Cincinnati made history by picking up its first wins in the tournament, 69-68 over Rutgers in the opening round and 69-66 over Louisville in the second. The Bearcats’ run was more stunning considering they lost five of six to close the regular season.

West Virginia won the teams’ only regular-season meeting, 74-68 on Feb. 27.

Both teams struggled offensively with West Virginia having the better shooting effort at 35 percent (21 of 60). That mark included going 4 of 20 from 3-point range.

The Bearcats shot 33.3 percent (17 of 51) and were 5 of 14 on 3s.

What was left of the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden was worried as regulation wore down, many remembering the final game of last year’s quarterfinals. That one turned out to be Syracuse’s 127-117 six-overtime victory against Connecticut.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Cincinnati
Lance Stephenson Lance Stephenson
7-18,  19 Pts
7 Rebs, 1 Assists
 West Virginia
Da'Sean Butler Da'Sean Butler
6-11,  15 Pts
6 Rebs, 5 Assists

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Thursday, Mar 11