For two straight springs, no campus was hit harder by March Madness than Butler University. After the Bulldogs twice defied the odds and advanced to the NCAA title game, Butler basketball etched a place for itself among sport’s all-time greatest stories.
Good Dawgs Come Home
The Bulldogs entered the 2010 NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 record and a 20-game winning streak. Owning a No. 5 seed in the West Regional, many experts made the Dawgs the trendy pick to be upset by 12 th-seeded UTEP. Butler dispatched UTEP 77-59 behind 25 points from Shelvin Mack. After edging a 31-4 Murray State squad, the Dawgs were on to their third Sweet 16 in eight years.
Butler then traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, and took down No. 1 seed Syracuse 63-59. A fast start and late 3-pointers by Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley helped BU advance to its first ever Elite Eight appearance. Two days later, Butler would face Kansas State with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Like the Syracuse game, Butler started fast and led 20-10 in the first half. Butler continued to lead until KSU final took a 52-51 lead with 4:50 left in the game. Moments later, a lay-up by Gordon Hayward gave the Bulldogs the lead, and they would never trail again. Butler finished the Wildcats off with a 63-56 and headed home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
Butler was the talk of the nation. Playing less than six miles south of campus, the Bulldogs had become America’s Team. Fans swarmed Hinkle Fieldhouse to catch a glimpse of Butler’s historic gym, and to get the feel of a campus of about 4,200 students turned upside down with its team making college basketball history.
In the national semifinal, the Bulldogs took on another team that made an improbable run, the Michigan State Spartans. The defensive battle between the pair of No. 5 seeds went down to the wire. Butler led 50-49 in the final minute when Nored calmly sunk two foul shots to put BU up 52-49. On MSU’s final possession, Butler smartly fouled and Michigan State would split a pair of free throws. When Hayward grabbed the final rebound, Butler had advanced to the national championship game.
With the eyes of the nation watching, Butler took on Duke on basketball’s biggest stage. A crowd of 70,930 packed Lucas Oil Stadium that night, with a large majority pulling for the Bulldogs. The crowd roared as the Devils and Dawgs went back and forth. Senior sub Avery Jukes scored 10 points in the first half to pull Butler to within 32-31 at half.
Butler trailed 60-55 with 3:16 to play, but in typical Bulldog fashion, won the game’s final minutes. Trailing 60-59 with time ticking away, Hayward shot a baseline jumper that bounced out and was rebounded by Duke. Duke split free throws, missing the second on purpose. Hayward pulled down the rebound and shot a half-courter at the buzzer. One of the most famous shots in NCAA Tournament history hit off the backboard and rim. Butler finished the season with a 33-5 record and as national runner-up.
A whirlwind of offseason adulation and attention ensued. Butler had always been a strong program, but now it was front and center on the national map. Despite losing Hayward after he was selected 9 thin the 2010 NBA Draft by Utah, Butler returned a veteran team that now had Final Four experience for the 2010-11 season.
Bulldogs Make History In Houston
A loss at Youngstown State in early February dropped Butler to 14-9 and had the Bulldogs counted out in the minds of many. On that day, the team decided it wouldn’t lose again. The Bulldogs would win the next 14 games and once again advance to college basketball’s final game.
Seeded No. 8 in the Southeast Regional, Butler was tied with No. 9 seed Old Dominion in the final seconds. Matt Howard, the heart and soul of the Bulldogs, corralled a loose ball and scored at the buzzer to move Butler into a match-up with No. 1 seed Pittsburgh. In what may have been the tournament’s best game, Andrew Smith scored late to give Butler a 70-69 lead. The rest of the game went down in tournament lore, as each team committed a strange foul. In the end, a free throw by Matt Howard lifted Butler to a 71-70 victory in a game that was nominated for an ESPY for Best Game of the Year.
In the Sweet 16, Butler overwhelmed Wisconsin early to take a 47-27 lead with 11 minutes left in the game. Wisconsin closed to within 56-52 but the Bulldogs held off the Badgers for another berth in the regional final. Next up was Butler’s old nemesis, Florida. The Gators had defeated the Bulldogs in close game during the 2000 and 2007 NCAA Tournaments.
Florida pounded the ball inside but Mack kept Butler within 33-32 with 14 first-half points. The Gators would grow their lead to 51-40 before Butler stormed back, tying the game at 60 at the end of regulation. The two teams traded shots in overtime until Mack hit a late trey to put Butler ahead 72-70. Two Mack free throws with 10 seconds left sealed the game. Butler was going back to the Final Four.
In the 2011 national semifinal in Houston, Butler played another unlikely team to make a Final Four run. VCU from the Colonial Athletic Association had gone from the First Four to the Final Four and was arguably the nation’s hottest team. The Rams leading Butler 20-15 when a 12-4 run gave the Dawgs the lead. Butler would lead 34-28 at halftime and eventually lead by double digits in the final minute of a 70-62 victory. Butler would play in college basketball’s final game…again.
In the national final against Big East tourney champion Connecticut, the magic finally ran out. A 3-pointer by Mack just before halftime gave BU a 22-19 lead at the break. Butler extended the lead to 25-19 early in the second half but wouldn’t lead again. Despite near-perfect defensive execution, the Bulldogs ran out of offense in a 53-41 loss in the national final.
A Look At The Back-to-Back NCAA Runs
- Butler became the first team outside the six major conferences to reach back-to-back Final Fours since UNLV (1990-91). BU was the smallest school since San Francisco in 1956.
- Butler is the first team from the state of Indiana to reach consecutive Final Fours.
- In 2011, BU tied for the lowest seed (8) to reach the final game.
- Butler was the first team to reach consecutive Final Fours without being a No. 1 or 2 seed.
- Butler became the first team to beat Nos. 1 and 2 seeds before the Final Four in consecutive years.