Sometimes I hate journalism. Thursday night was one of those times.
Not that what I do for my job with Stanford's Scout website is hard-hitting investigative reporting, but I'm trying to make a conscious effort to be a little more than just a cheerleader. No more "we"s and "our"s. That kind of stuff.
But against Butler this past Thursday, all I wanted to do was shed that pseudo-writer role and enjoy the game as a fan, because it was one helluva game. And a heartbreaking one if you're a Cardinal fan (which I am to the core -- three years under Trent Johnson and one under Johnny Dawkins as a student manager), as the reigning two-time NCAA runner-up Butler Bulldogs outlasted the Farm Boys 71-66.
I love knock 'em down, grind 'em out games; I was raised on Heat-Knicks. While there was no brawl that resulted in Johnny Dawkins sprawled out on the court and holding on to Andrew Smith's leg for dear life, Thursday's game was played with a physicality that we don't normally see Stanford partake in -- mainly because they don't play Butler that often. And on Thursday night, the Bulldogs were not to be out-toughed.
It wasn't that Stanford didn't have a tough-minded effort going into and throughout the game -- they did. But this was Butler, mid-major-bad Butler, and Brad Stevens' group did Stanford in by being more alert for loose balls and missed shots.
Perhaps the best thing that really tough teams do is rebound. Thursday night, Butler outrebounded Stanford 34-29 and 11-7 on the offensive glass.
And on the two possessions that really finished off the Cardinal, it was Butler's ability to get offensive boards that led to the killer buckets. First, with the game at 59-55, Roosevelt Jones (man, I love this kid) snatched up a missed shot that didn't hit rim to eventually give Ronald Nored a supposedly-shot-clock-beating heave-ho three.
I have been told that the replay shows that the ball was clearly in Nored's hands when the shot clock hit zero. I will say this much -- that's a very tough call to make in the flow of play. I was mad, but I can't hold it against the zebras.
The second killer offensive rebound actually didn't go down as such in the box score. Instead, the play was ruled as a heads-up pass off the glass from nearly half court to Andrew Smith for the layup as the shot clock expired. It was one of the smartest plays I've seen in, well, I don't know how long. Smith's awareness to box Stanford's John Gage out and snatch the ball was a testament to the smarts and toughness of that Butler team. That play was just about the nail in the coffin.
Another key to the Butler victory was their dribble hand-off action around the perimeter, which caused some confusion for the Cardinal defense. It would lead to a lot of odd switches, such as Josh Owens out at the three point line guarding a perimeter and Chasson Randle pinned down low having to go up against Erik Fromm, who had four easy points near the end of the first half as a result of those switches.
Just like they did last year in Indianapolis, Butler got some problems ironed out against Stanford. The Bulldogs couldn't hit the backside of a barn against Gonzaga Tuesday night, making just one of their last 13 three-point attempts. (And they had some pretty good looks, too.) Thursday night? The Bulldogs were six of nine from beyond the arc at one point in the second half. And yes, they had wide-open looks thanks to their ability to get the Stanford D to collapse on dribble penetration, but they certainly were just feeling it as much as they had all season long.
On the Stanford side, Chasson Randle showed a lot of grit with his 16-point effort and muscled in a few big shots down low. So did Josh Owens, who played like a man possessed, including a low-block spin move he had in the second half. Dwight Powell also had perhaps his most controlled and productive offensive night by dominating the low-post when he got the ball there. John Gage was bombin' from downtown ... again. Not enough, though. Not enough defense and not enough rebounding. With the way Butler has played this year, 66 points should be enough to beat the Bulldogs. Not the case on Thursday.
So, while Mid-Majority contributors and followers applauded Butler for getting a tally on the right side of that 17 percent, I shook my head in disappointment, seeing an 11-1 non-conference record slip through the fingers of my beloved financially secure BCS school.
BUTLER 71, at STANFORD 66 12/22/2011
BUTLER 6-7 (0-1) -- R. Nored 5-8 5-8 18; R. Jones 3-7 1-1 7; C. Stigall 2-8 0-0 6; A. Smith 5-7 0-3 10; K. Woods 2-4 0-0 5; E. Fromm 2-7 0-0 4; J. Aldridge 5-7 3-3 15; K. Marshall 0-2 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 1-4 0-0 3; C. Hopkins 1-2 0-0 3; G. Butcher 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 9-15 71. STANFORD 10-2 (0-0) -- C. Randle 5-9 4-5 16; J. Owens 7-10 3-4 17; A. Brown 1-6 0-1 2; D. Powell 3-4 0-1 6; A. Bright 3-6 5-7 11; J. Mann 1-6 0-2 2; J. Huestis 0-0 0-0 0; J. Gage 4-6 1-1 12; A. Zimmermann 0-1 0-0 0; G. Harris 0-0 0-0 0; J. Trotter 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-49 13-21 66.
Three-point goals: BUTL 10-22 (R. Nored 3-4; C. Stigall 2-6; E. Fromm 0-1; C. Hopkins 1-2; A. Smeathers 1-4; J. Aldridge 2-3; K. Woods 1-2), STAN 5-13 (J. Trotter 0-1; A. Bright 0-1; A. Brown 0-1; J. Gage 3-5; C. Randle 2-5); Rebounds: BUTL 31 (R. Jones 9), STAN 26 (J. Owens 9); Assists: BUTL 15 (R. Nored 5), STAN 11 (C. Randle 3); Total Fouls -- BUTL 22, STAN 16; Fouled Out: BUTL-J. Aldridge; STAN-None.