Game Notes: Old Dominion vs Butler
Matt Howard hits Tournament’s first buzzer-beater.
by Aaron Kaplowitz
There are rules to the final play of an NCAA Tournament game when its outcome is still in question. First, the crowd gets wildly loud. Then, as the play unfolds people are inexplicably quiet, breaths held. And the most important rule of all: Everyone watches the events unfold.
Butler’s Matt Howard broke the last rule, and his last-second disobedience propelled 8-seeded Butler into the next round with a thrilling 60-58 victory over the 9-seed Old Dominion, on Thursday in Washington DC.
“He never stops playing,” teammate Andrew Smith said.
With 32 seconds remaining and the game tied at 58, Butler held the ball for the last shot. Senior guard Shawn Vanzant drove down the right gap and was forced to the baseline. Slipping, he threw a prayer at the rim. The 6-11 Smith reached at it and pushed it toward the rim.
In that moment, every player on the court craned their necks toward the rim and watched for the clock to run out. Every player but one. Howard, a senior forward from Connersville, IN, swooped in from the top of the key and grabbed the ball just as it came off the left side of the rim, immediately spinning it off the glass as the backboard’s red light flashed.
Howard’s teammates swarmed him, while the refs immediately trotted to the scorers’ table. After a short review, they signaled the basket counted, and bee-lined toward their locker room.
“This game will give your heart an extra beat, and it will also break your heart,” Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor said after the game. “Right now, our hearts are broken.”
Trailing by two with 35 seconds to play, Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore was fouled by Vanzant. He sank both free throws, and a game that was close throughout earned the breathtaking finish it deserved.
A finish that almost never happened. With five minutes to play, Smith cut in front of Bazemore’s powerful drive to the basket. The ODU guard leapt toward the rim and Smith held firm, taking the charge. He also took a hard elbow to the head that required medical attention. Woozy on the bench, the medical staff inspected the gash and checked for signs of a concussion.
“I had a concussion earlier in the year, so I knew what it felt like,” Smith said, “and this felt different.” Bleeding and bandaged, he returned minutes later and played the unsung facilitator to Howard’s heroic.
Astonishingly, the Butler Bulldogs did not shoot their first free throws until 11:28 remained in the game. Neither team shot particularly accurately from the floor, and Butler’s 7-26 output from behind the arc must improve if the team hopes to make another extraordinary NCAA run.
In the school’s first NCAA Tournament game since last year’s 61-59 loss to Duke in the championship – a game that Butler nearly won on a last-second half-court shot from Gordon Hayward – Butler advanced in dramatic fashion.
“First team to 60 [points], right?” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said, referring to the outcome of the past two tournament games. “There’s no redemption from last year’s loss, that little hurt will never go away.
“But it’s fun to keep playing,” he said.