Bulldogs Capture Horizon League Tournament Crown

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. -- Junior Matt Howard and sophomore Shelvin Mack each scored 14 points and top-seeded Butler unleashed a smothering defense to dispatch #2 Wright State, 70-45, in the title game of the 2010 Speedway Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Tuesday (Mar. 9).  The win extended Butler’s nation-leading winning streak to 20 in a row.

Mack opened the game with a three-point field goal and the Bulldogs added seven more long-range shots in the first 20 minutes to open a 14-point halftime lead, 42-28.  And that’s as close as Wright State would come for the rest of the game. 

“We tried something a little different tonight, playing some zone early,” said Wright State head coach Brad Brownell.  “We’ve done it at times, and they haven’t always handled it as well, but they hit shots tonight.  Shelvin Mack got going early, and any time you get behind against them, it’s just really hard.  They defend really well and make it challenging for you to come back.

Butler (28-4) hit 14 of 21 (.667) shots in the initial stanza, including eight of 13 (.615) from beyond the three-point arc!  Mack hit four of six long-range shots and scored all 14 of his points in the first half.

“When one team shoots it great and the other misses a few, sometimes you feel a lot better,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens.  “That was the case tonight.  We had plenty of deficiency that we can work on, but we just shot it so well and against that zone we hit some deep ones in the first half and that gave us a 14-point lead.”

The Bulldogs cooled slightly in the second half, but still stretched the margin to as many as 30 points behind a rock-solid defensive effort.  Wright State (20-12) managed just five field goals in the final 20 minutes, shooting just 20% (5-25) from the field.  The Raiders never got closer than 20 points in the final 15 minutes.

Howard, who was named Tournament MVP, narrowly missed a double-double, adding nine rebounds to his 14 points.  And he had one of the tournament’s best hustle plays in the second half, diving off the playing floor to save the ball to a teammate, leading to a Butler basket.

“That’s a play that will be shown for the next 20 years,” noted Stevens.  “And the teaching point is that we’re up 20 points, and (Howard) plays the right way to win the possession.  I think it speaks to who he is, but it also speaks to who we all want to be every day.”

Howard was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammates Gordon Hayward, Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack and Wright State’s N’Gai Evans, who led the Raiders with 13 points.

Stevens played all 15 Butler players in the victory.  Junior Zach Hahn came off the bench with 11 points and senior Willie Veasley added nine.  The Bulldogs wound up shooting 52% (24-46) for the game.

With the win, Butler earns its fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.  The Bulldogs will find out who and when they play on Selection Sunday, March 14.

BULLDOG BITS:  Butler became the first team in Horizon League history to complete an unbeaten league season and win the league tournament...The Bulldogs won the Horizon League Tournament for the sixth time, matching former member Xavier for most tournament titles...With the win, Butler ties Detroit for most all-time Horizon League Tournament wins (28)...Butler's Matt Howard earned Horizon League All-Tournament honors for the third straight year, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since Detroit's Rashad Phillips did it (1999-2001).

(Photos by John Fetcho)