Butler Bulldogs 74, Florida Gators 71 (Overtime)
Now this is a true Cinderella team.
Not to take anything away from last year's Butler squad. In fact it's a compliment--last year's Bulldogs were tenaciously tough on defense and really forced all their opponents into slow-paced low possession games that favored their style of play. They were a team that definitely had a good shot to win the national championship, and they came oh so close to doing so.
This year, not the case. Butler has struggled. They let teams get to the bucket too frequently. Their defense has sagged off from last year's levels. What has improved is their offense, but all too often it was the defense letting them down through the season. And in their Elite 8 matchup against Florida, all those kinks were on display as they got pounded inside, couldn't force turnovers, shot way too many threes instead of going for twos, and missed their free throws.
Yet for some reason, the Gators left the Bulldogs off the hook late, and (most shockingly of all) couldn't get the rebounds when it mattered (Florida's biggest advantage was supposed to be their size and rebounding). And as a result, Butler is going back to the Final Four.
Shelvin Mack didn't have his greatest game, but 27 points, 4 assists, and the "go ahead for good" three was good enough. Matt Howard pitched in with 14 points, although he too was on shaky ground. But it wasn't just Mack and Howard doing the work. Freshman Khyle Marshall wasn't doing damage in March last year, but he grabbed all seven of his rebounds on the offensive end to give Butler the extra possessions they needed. 10 big points too, a lot of them courtesy of his tenacity on the glass. 8 rebounds for Andrew Smith, 7 rebounds for Shawn Vanzant, 5 for Howard, and Butler got the extra chances they needed to stay in it and eventually get up on it. 16 offensive rebounds for the Bulldogs, leading to the few extra possessions they needed.
Florida will only have themselves to blame for this loss. After seemingly dominating the paint all the game to the tune of 10 of 17 shooting on layups and dunks, the Gators regressed to taking bad, contested three point shots late in the game when Butler made it close. Florida was 22 for 43 on twos and a terrible 3 for 14 on threes. Erving Walker was the main culprit, taking seven triples and clanging six of them (including tough contested 30-35 footers); Chandler Parsons was not much better, shooting 2 for 9. This negated excellent efforts by Vernon Macklin (25 points on 14 shots, 5 rebounds), Alex Tyus (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Kenny Boynton (17 points).
Butler moves onto Houston to take on the winner of Kansas/VCU next Saturday.