March 1, 2003
Freshman Avery Sheets raced up the floor in the closing seconds and buried a three-point field goal at the buzzer to lift Butler to a 76-74 victory over visiting UW-Milwaukee in front of a capacity crowd of 11,043 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, March 1. The dramatic victory boosted the Bulldogs to 24-4 on the season and 14-2 in the Horizon League and gave Butler its fourth consecutive league regular season championship. UW-Milwaukee fell to 22-7 overall and 13-3 in league play.
The heart-stopping final play rescued the Bulldogs, who fell behind for only the second time in the second half when UW-Milwaukee's Justin Lettenberger hit two free throws with 0:04.2 left on the clock to give the Panthers at 74-73 advantage. Lettenberger was fouled under the basket, attempting a potential game-winning shot.
Following a UW-Milwaukee time-out, Butler tried to execute a play designed to go to senior guard Brandon Miller. But the Panthers had the play covered and junior Mike Monserez had to inbound the ball to Sheets on the left side of the floor. The first year guard dribbled up the side of the court, pulled up at the three-point arc and drilled the game-winner. Pandemonium broke out as Butler's students rushed the floor and lifted Sheets onto their shoulders.
"I knew I had a chance to get the ball when we passed to Mike (Monserez)," Sheets said after the game. "I was looking for someone ahead of me, but I didn't find anyone. I saw an open lane, so I tried to go as far as I could and get the best shot I could. I saw the shot go through and then it was just a swarm of people."
UW-Milwaukee head coach Bruce Pearl expected Butler's final play, and he had his team prepared for it.
"Rarely do you know what the opponent's going to run on a last play, but we saw them run it against Detroit and Miller got a great shot. But we didn't see the second option. It was a great play and they executed it," said Pearl.
It was a classic finish to a championship calibre game. Butler built big leads in both the first and second half, only to see the Panthers claw their way back into the contest. The Bulldogs had a 15-point lead with 7:49 left in the initial period but had just a two-point advantage, 39-37, at halftime.
Butler stretched the lead to 16 points in the second half, behind the hot hand of senior guard Darnell Archey, but the Panthers stormed back and took the lead twice in the closing minutes.
Archey led five Butler players in double figures with 15 points, while senior Joel Cornette added 13 points and seven rebounds before fouling out on the Panther's final play. Junior Duane Lightfoot, who fouled out with 6:49 remaining, added 12 points , while Miller and Monserez each chipped in with 10. Sheets finished with six points on two three-point field goals.
Senior Ronnie Jones topped the Panthers with 19 points, while senior Clay Tucker added 18. Lettenberger came off the bench with 14 points and nine rebounds, while junior Dylan Page added 11 points.
The victory was No. 50 of Butler coach Todd Lickliter's young career, boosting him into a tie for seventh place on the list of "Top 10 Best Career Starts By Wins" in the NCAA Division I! It was also the 97th win by Butler's senior class of Cornette, Archey, Miller, Lewis Curry, Rob Walls and Mike Moore. The six have contributed to the most wins over a four-year period in Butler basketball history!
Butler will take the No. 1 seed into next week's Horizon League Tournament. The Bulldogs have a bye until the semifinals, which will be played on Saturday, March 8, in Milwaukee, Wis.