SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The 2009-10 Butler Bulldogs are headed to uncharted territory: a trip to the Elite Eight. BU defeated No. 1 seed Syracuse, 63-59, Thursday evening in the NCAA West Regional. Butler is one win away from a Final Four in its hometown Indianapolis.
Now, after reaching the regional finals for the first time in school history, Butler is one win from going home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
"I was headed down the court on defense because I figured it was going to go over the top of the backboard. But I looked back and it came down and went through," senior Willie Veasley said. "That was a H-O-R-S-E shot. I've never made a shot quite like that."
Veasley pumped his fist and grinned as he continued toward the other end after making a game-changing 3-pointer during Butler's decisive run. It was fitting that he was already headed back on defense. Instead of Syracuse's vaunted zone controlling the game, Butler's pesky man-to-man defense was the difference as the Bulldogs won their 23rd straight game.
"We said this word over and over in Indianapolis, and that word is 'resolve.' These guys have resolve," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "It's hard to measure, but they've got it."
The Bulldogs (31-4) certainly did in the last five minutes, holding the Orange without a point from the time Syracuse went up by four with 5:23 left until a too-little-too-late layup with 35 seconds remaining.
Sophomore forward Gordon Hayward scored 17 points and started the celebration while dribbling out the clock after the Bulldogs forced Syracuse into its 18th turnover.
The Orange (30-5) made only three more field goals than turnovers in another loss in the round of 16. Syracuse hasn't played in the regional finals since winning the 2003 national title.
"The game was a story of turnovers. They didn't make turnovers," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They were really good with the basketball. We just had 18 turnovers and you can't give away that many possessions."
Veasley finished with 13 points and three steals. Ronald Nored finished with five steals and hit a 3-pointer to start the decisive run.
"Under any circumstance, I think we're poised. You have to be tough," said Nored, whose 3-pointer with 3:14 left cut Syracuse's lead to 54-53.
SU's Wes Johnson had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Orange, the second No. 1 seed to go down. Northern Iowa stunned top-ranked Kansas in the second round of the Midwest Regional last weekend. Scoop Jardine added 14 points and five assists and Andy Rautins scored 15, including a 3-pointer to open the second half. That sent the Orange on a 15-4 run that gave them their first lead.
But the sloppy Orange couldn't overcome all their turnovers, and the 2-3 zone that so many wondered whether Butler could crack was no match for the Bulldogs' sharp shooting in the final minutes after Syracuse had taken a 54-50 lead with 5:23 left -- then didn't score again for almost five minutes.
After Nored hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one, junior Matt Howard scored inside to put the Bulldogs back ahead and then Veasley got his fortunate bounce off the rim and backboard to put Butler up 58-54.
Veasley added a tip-in on Butler's next possession, and the Bulldogs held on.
After leading by 12 in the first half, the Horizon League champions were in jeopardy of getting run over by the Orange as they recovered from a frustrating start. But Syracuse could never get its transition game going and the easy baskets weren't there, thanks to the Bulldogs.
Butler was just 6-for-24 from 3-point range, but the Bulldogs never stopped shooting from beyond the arc -- and hustling back on defense.
Syracuse had one good break late in the second half and it turned out to be the last. After a 3-pointer by Rautins put his team up 52-50, Johnson grabbed a defensive rebound and got the Orange on a fast break before getting stymied by Butler. Johnson passed to Jardine, who got the ball to Kris Joseph for a dunk that put Syracuse up 54-50 with 5:23 left.
The Orange didn't score again until Jardine's layup with 35 seconds remaining cut Butler's lead to 61-56.