On Saturday in Washington, DC, the Butler Bulldogs and Pittsburgh Panthers played in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history. The game was played at such a high level by both teams, Butler shot 46% from the field, hit 12 3 pointers, shot 78% from the foul line and only turned the ball over 6 times. While Pittsburgh shot 57% from the field, hit 6 3 pointers and outrebounded Butler by 10.
Butler came out in the first half and jumped out to an early double digit lead as Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard were on fire early. Pitt began to chip away and cut it to 8 at halftime behind a great game from Gilbert Brown, who finished with 24 points.
The second half had the Verizon Center crowd going crazy. There were ups and downs for both fan bases. Pitt came all the way back to take the lead, and then Butler fought back and reclaimed the lead. Shelvin Mack who started the game hot, hit clutch shot after clutch shot in the 2nd half on his way to 30 points.
The great games by Brown and Mack had the game tied at 67 with just under two minutes to play when Brad Wanamaker was fouled by Andrew Smith as Butler attempted to try and hedge the screen. Wanamaker made both free throws to give the Panthers a lead with 1:58 remaining. On the following Butler possession Andrew Smith was fouled in the paint, but was only able to make 1 shot, so Pitt had the lead 69-68 and that set the stage for one of the wildest endings ever in the NCAA Tournament and probably basketball in general.
Butler missed two chances to take the lead with around 50 seconds to go and the Panthers had the ball with the lead by 1. On Pitt’s next possession they ran a high ball screen like they had done much of the day. However this time instead of just hedging the screen, Butler hedged and then trapped the basketball. This trap caught Pitt by surprise and no one moved to get open. They finally found the open man, but he released the shot just after the shot clock expired. Butler had the ball back with 9 seconds left down by 1.
The Bulldogs advanced the ball just over half-court and called timeout with 7 seconds remaining. Butler is one of the best teams at scoring out of timeouts. Unsure of what defense Pitt would come out playing, coach Brad Stevens said he called a play that would work against both. The first part to the play he called, a Matt Howard high ball screen, wasn’t there so Vanzant saw an opening and went the other way. As he drove Pitt helped off of Andrew Smith to stop the ball, so Vanzant slid the ball to Andrew Smith for the layup to give the Bulldogs a one point lead with just under 3 seconds left.
That is where the great game should have ended. However the next 2 plus seconds were filled with some basketball stupidity. Pitt had no timeouts remaining so threw the ball down the sideline. Mack went after it and in doing so hipchecked Gilbert Brown out of bounds and was whistled for the foul with 1.4 seconds left. After the game Mack said of the foul, “It was the dumbest mistake of my life.” Two shots for Brown. He made the first giving the Panthers the tie game. Inexplicably Jamie Dixon left his players on the lane for the second shot. Brown’s second shot rimmed out, and Matt Howard was able to grab the ball as Pitt F, Nasir Robinson came down on top of his arm. The whistle blew. Moments after the Butler crowd was in stunned shock thinking the game was lost, it was now the fans of the Panthers turn. The foul on Robinson sent Matt Howard to the line for 2 shots.
Two days after the ball left his hand with 0.1 seconds left for the victory over Old Dominion, Howard now stood at the line for 2 shots with 0.8 seconds left. He calmly drained the first, causing the Butler fans to go crazy as victory was all theirs, as long as nothing crazier happened. Butler had all their players off the lane and Howard intentionally missed the second and as Pitt grabbed the rebound time expired.
Butler wins 71-70.
I mentioned they key to the game would be turnovers and Butler won that battle. This game basically had everything a college basketball fan could want. The ups and downs, the excitement and the Madness that is March. While I was sitting there with the Butler fans celebrating, your heart has to go out to those players from Pitt. They battled hard and played a great game. To see the raw emotion at the end of the game from both teams sums up what playing in the NCAA tournament is all about.
The Bulldogs will take on Wisconsin on Thursday night at 9:57 PM EST in the Southeast Regional from New Orleans, La.
About the Author
Written by Patrick Greissing
Life long resident of Washington, DC. A huge Washington Capitals and Miami Dolphins fan. Also have a strong passion for college basketball. Have coached at the high school and national AAU level. Always interested in talking sports. Follow me on twitter: @pgreissing