Bulldogs Claim Horizon League Regular Season Title, Edge Vikings, 58-56
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Willie Veasley scored a career-high 16 points and Ronald Nored scored the last three points to rally No. 24 Butler to a 58-56 conference-championship clinching victory over Cleveland State on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (25-4, 15-3 Horizon League) have now won three straight regular-season titles and will host the conference tournament semifinals next Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse. If Butler wins that game, it will also host the tournament's title game.
Cleveland State (21-10, 12-6), the preseason conference favorite, was led by Norris Cole with 17 points and J'Nathan Bullock with 13.
It was a wild game.
Butler finally appeared to have taken control midway through the second half when Veasley and Matt Howard combined for all eight points in an 8-2 run that turned a 42-38 lead into a 50-40 cushion with 9:34 to go.
But Cleveland State answered with three straight 3-pointers and regained the lead on Trevon Harmon's putback with 5:31 to go. Cedric Jackson closed the 12-0 run by making one free throw to give the Vikings led 52-50 lead with 4:46 to go.
The teams traded leads and ties the rest of the night.
Cleveland State could have extended the lead with 2:06 left after George Tandy drove in for a layup and drew a foul. But he missed the free throw, and the Vikings never scored again.
Gordon Hayward's free throw got Butler within one and after a Cleveland State turnover, and Nored's putback with 53.9 seconds left gave Butler a 57-56 lead.
Veasley then grabbed the rebound off Bullock's missed 15-footer from the baseline with 16.7 seconds remaining, and Nored made the second free throw to give Butler a 58-56 lead.
Cleveland State played for the win, setting up Cole for a 3-pointer in the closing seconds. But it bounced off the rim, Butler got the ball back and drew a quick foul.
Shelvin Mack missed both free throws, giving Cole a desperation 80-foot heave to win it, but it was well short.
Butler was just 2-of-12 on free throws in the second half.
Howard finished with 12 points for Butler, while Jackson had 11 for Cleveland State.