Bulldogs frustrate Terps, land in Sweet 16
By Rodney McKissic
Butler tempted fate. The Bulldogs teetered on a high wire. And they found a way to win and advance, leaving behind a frustrated opponent from Maryland.
It was a treacherous ride for the No. 5 seeded Bulldogs on Saturday but with the help of a key rebound, Butler (29-6) moves to the Sweet 16 after a 62-59 victory over No. 4 seed Maryland (25-9) in front of 18,801 at HSBC Arena.
The sneaky getaway -- aided by a controversial charging call in the final minute -- gave Butler a school and Horizon League record 29th victory and its first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2003.
"We love Buffalo," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. "I said two days ago it's a thrill to be in this tournament. The way that we got in with these guys playing great basketball for four months speaks well for them and what they've been able to accomplish."
Chased and harassed by a more athletic, physical challenger, Butler simply would not fall. The Sweet 16 couldn't be pried from the Bulldogs' fingers but they needed every one of A.J. Graves' team-high 19 points and Brandon Crone's 13 points.
"I think we've proven we can play with anybody," said Crone, who came up with two pivotal plays in the final minute. "I'm just happy to be where we are."
The Terrapins, left out of the NCAAs the last two seasons, led only once in the second half, with 16 minutes left on a three-pointer by Mike Jones, but seemed poised to break through. Trailing 61-59, Maryland's D.J. Strawberry went hard to the basket and collided with Crone with 40.6 seconds left. Hold it. Whistle. Charging on Strawberry.
"I can't comment on any calls," Terrapins coach Gary Williams said. "We need the money at Maryland."
The guy who's been money all season for Butler is point guard Mike Green. After Julian Betko missed a three-pointer from the top of the key, it was Green who hunted down the offensive board. Maryland's Greivis Vasquez grabbed a fist full of Green's jersey to kill the clock with 3.6 seconds left.
"I just did my job," said the 6-foot Green, the smallest man on the court at the time. "Our big guys were working, working, working the whole game. When they get the big guys out, it's me and A.J.'s job to go clean up. I was just in the right place at the right time."
Lickliter was yelling at Green to get back on defense.
"I tell them there's two kinds of people who don't achieve a whole lot, people who won't do what they're asked and people who only do what they're asked," Lickliter said. "I asked Mike Green to get back but he's smart enough to rebound. I'm thankful that he will do more than what he's asked to do."
But Green had to make both free throws to send Butler to St. Louis. The first one was true, the second fell short.
"I stepped up and hit my first one," he said, "the second one was off a little."
Vasquez rebounded and threw the outlet to Strawberry, but Crone reached in from behind for the steal and the ball headed out of bounds off Strawberry's leg.
Crone, however, tried to retrieve it and the ball went out off Crone with six-tenths of a second left.
Williams inserted Dave Neal to trigger the in-bounds pass and he fired it perfectly to Jones, who fumbled the ball as time expired.
"I think I was more concerned about the shot than catching the ball," said Jones, who led all scorers with 21 points. "Things like that happen when you're in a clutch position."
But it shouldn't have come to that. Maryland had a decisive edge on the boards (37-23), but the Terrapins didn't make their free throws (7 of 15). Now they're going home and Butler advances to meet today's winner between No. 1 Florida vs. No. 9 Purdue in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
Said Crone: "I think we've shown all year that when 12 players play together, anything can be done."