Nov. 24, 2006
NEW YORK (AP) - Butler had already beaten a team from the Big East, the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Bulldogs capped the tournament Friday night with a 79-71 victory over Gonzaga, a team that might not have the conference pedigree of their other victims but still has an impressive recent history.
"Every game that we played we have had tremendous respect for our opponent, and when you do that, you prepare well and you stay very in tune," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. "We'd like to always do that, but when you're playing Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga, it's pretty imperative that you concentrate and try to execute and do all the little things."
Butler excelled at doing the little things that allow "mid-major" programs to compete, and beat, teams from the power conferences.
The Bulldogs went 23-for-26 from the free throw line, including 16-for-18 over the final 3 1/2 minutes, committed seven turnovers and allowed more than 70 points for the first time in the four-game tournament, 42 in the second half.
"Butler outplayed us in any facet and every facet that I can possibly think of involved in basketball," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
A.J. Graves scored 26 points for Butler (6-0), which won the battle of the Bulldogs despite not making a field goal over the final eight minutes as Gonzaga (5-1) cut an 18-point deficit to as few as six.
"We didn't get too excited when we beat IU. We enjoyed the night and moved on and we'll do the same tonight," Graves said. "We've got games ahead of us. We've for the whole season ahead of us and we've just got to keep moving forward."
Derek Raivio had 20 points to lead Gonzaga, which advanced to the title game at Madison Square Garden by beating No. 2 North Carolina 82-74 in the semifinals.
While it was free throws that sealed the win, it was 3-pointers that got Butler off to a 43-29 halftime lead.
Butler, which beat No. 22 Tennessee 56-44 in the semifinals, had nine 3-pointers in the first half, their average for a game so far this season. Julian Betko made all three of his long-range attempts in the first half as Butler went 9-for-22.
Graves, who was 2-for-8 from beyond the arc in the first half, made two of his five 3-point attempts in the second half, the second one giving Butler a 60-45 lead with 9:39 to play.
Betko's desperation jumper from just outside the foul line as the shot clock expired with 8:00 left was Butler's last field goal of the game and it gave the Bulldogs a 62-45 lead. Brian Ligon's free throw 30 seconds later gave Butler its biggest lead.
Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga's big man who was limited to six points in eight minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, started an 8-0 run for Gonzaga with a three-point play. Raivio capped it with a 3 and two free throws, but Graves started Butler's free throw parade with 3:32 left. He went 6-for-6 from the line the rest of the way and Mike Green made all eight of his free throws down the stretch.
Gonzaga was able to get within seven points five times and six once, 77-71 with 14 seconds left, but Butler just kept making free throws.
"We'll score, we don't care how we score," Lickliter said. "If we score at the line, that's fine with us. We don't care. I thought we shot a few 3s down the stretch that were a little b it frightening, but that's who we are I guess. They were open. I hate to tell guys who can make them not to shoot them."
Green finished with 16 points for Butler, a member of the Horizon League, and Betko had 13.
Heytvelt finished with 16 points and eight rebounds for Gonzaga, which is in the West Coast Conference.
"Two fouls took me out of the game at the beginning but it didn't change my mind-set at all," Heytvelt said. "Butler did a great job on defense and offense, how they executed. I don't think those two fouls really affected the game. Butler just came out firing and they beat us."