NEW ORLEANS » Of course Butler erased a late deficit. Of course the Bulldogs hit a clutch 3-pointer late in overtime. Of course they’re going back to the Final Four.
This is the Butler Way.
Shelvin Mack scored 27 points, including five in overtime, and Butler reached the Final Four for the second year in a row with a 74-71 victory over Florida yesterday.
"This is a huge deal," said Zach Hahn, whose two 3-pointers helped Butler stay close in the first half. "I don’t know that any other mid-major has ever done this. It’s hardly happened once, let alone twice."
Butler, the Horizon League champ, has vanquished three higher seeds from major conferences — top-seeded Pittsburgh, fourth-seeded Wisconsin and now second-seeded Florida — in succession.
Those big wins came after Matt Howard tipped in a winner in the final seconds against Old Dominion.
This game had another frantic finish.
"We just kind of stayed together, stayed the course, figured it out, and just played resiliently," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "I’m incredibly proud of these guys. They carried their coach in a big way. … Our players did a great job, and (they are) just a special group. We’re really lucky that they’re Butler Bulldogs."
Howard scored 14 and Khyle Marshall added 10 for the Bulldogs (27-9), who showed again they simply won’t give in, climbing out of an 11-point hole in the last 9:25 of the second half.
Mack was playing through pain after rolling his left ankle in the first half and needed a small bandage on his forehead in the second half. He could not recall what happened to his head, only that it was bleeding when he came to the sideline.
That didn’t stop him from draining a crucial 3-pointer with 1:21 left in overtime to give Butler the lead for good at 72-70. He also had enough vigor left during the net-cutting ritual to do a mocking Gator chomp with his arms from atop a ladder.
Kenny Boynton missed a long 3 that could have given Florida (29-8) the lead with a little under 20 seconds left. Alex Tyus appeared to have the offensive rebound, but Howard tied him up and the possession arrow favored Butler.
Florida had to foul Mack with 10.6 seconds to go, and he hit both shots for the final margin before Erving Walker missed a 3 to tie in the final seconds.
"Congratulations to Butler," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "They had great, great heart tonight. … I knew they had that, you know, all year long."
Vernon Macklin scored a career-high 25 points for Florida, while Boynton finished with 17 points and Tyus had his second-straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Butler had to overcome Florida’s size advantage and a number of its own mistakes.
In regulation, the Bulldogs made 10 of 20 free throws and shot 39.6 percent (21-for-53), including 8-for-30 from 3-point range. Yet they somehow found a way to survive to overtime, when they hit all seven foul shots and three of their eight field goals.
Now the Bulldogs are one win away from a second straight appearance in the national championship game.
"They’re tough," said Florida forward Chandler Parsons.