If you ever attend a game between Wright State and Butler, you may want to bring a mouthpiece. Just in case.
Last year's game at the Nutter Center seemed more like a mixed martial-arts fight than a basketball game. I coined the phrase "Octagon of Doom" to describe the game and the Horizon League title race last year in the 800 Games Project trial run. This year's game would be no different. Going into the night, six teams in the 10-team league were in a virtual tie with one loss each. Both Wright State and Butler were playing stout defense, allowing .96 and .94 points per possession respectively.
Raider fans were once again hyped up for the annual visit by Butler. Butler fans like to tease Raider fans every year about this game being "Wright State's Super Bowl," but that's true for most schools in the Horizon League. Winning at least a share of the league title and making the NCAA tournament the previous five years will do that. Wright State students were treated to a "Beat Butler Bash" with food and frivolity before the game in the auxiliary McLin Gym across the hall from the main arena. It was also a planned "white-out," with 5,000 free t-shirts being handed out with "Raider Up!" printed on them. Almost 6,600 fans turned out for the Friday night affair that was televised on ESPNU. That's more fans than the game against Big East member Cincinnati drew in December.
Raider students weren't the only ones that had pregame festivities. The Cincinnati Butler Alumni Chapter had an event in the Berry Room located on the third level. It was a very nice room with hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, beer, wine and soft drinks on the menu. Butler athletic director Barry Collier made the trip from Indianapolis to schmooze and talk up the upcoming Hinkle Fieldhouse renovation.
Those who entered the Nutter Center Pain Cave were treated to bludgeoning like they have never seen before. The game featured 42 fouls, 39 turnovers, and enough pile-ups for loose balls to make you scream because your ears are bleeding. Butler's Chase Stigall took a charge from Wright State's Julius Mays that resulted in a clash of heads that gave Stigall a bloody soul patch on his chin. Wright State's Reggie Arceneaux wrenched his back after running into a pick set by his teammate, A.J. Pacher. Butler's Chrishawn Hopkins was sent flying to the deck during a three-point shot that the officials chose not to call.
A first-half time-out contest was as ugly as the play in the first half. Contestants could earn 10 points for a layup, 25 points for mid-range shots outside the lane, or 50 points for superhoops. Both contestants started the 30 seconds flinging up outside shots with no success. Finally the contestant on the far end realized that 10 points for layups was the way to go and made three in the final seconds to win 30-0.
There were some things that were pretty in the pain cave. Wright State officially retired DiamondVision, which was the center scoreboard that gave neither the time nor the score. It has been replaced by an all-digital model. I'm not one for progress in all cases, but this was welcome. No more looking to the upper corners of the arena to check the score (although those scoreboards are still there if you like doing that.)
The Wright State pep band did a solid job as usual. They managed to pump out the best pep band version of "I'm on a Boat" that I've ever heard. The latest version of Rowdy, the Raider mascot, took the opportunity to crowd-surf to the top of the student section.
The halftime act was surreal. A gentleman named Christopher came out dressed like the Indian from the Village People. Attached to him via poles were four dummies dressed as the other members of the Village People. Christopher led the dummies through a choreographed routine of "Macho Man," "In the Navy," "YMCA," and some of the worst songs of the 90s, like "Macarena" and "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls. The crowd was transfixed in a way similar to when you drive by a bad traffic accident.
The game was close throughout. Neither team had a lead of more than four points the entire game. There were a total of 16 ties and 20 lead changes. Mays' play for Wright State was certainly pretty. His two free throws gave Wright State a 51-50 lead with 3:35 left. After a jumper by Butler freshman Roosevelt Jones, Mays answered again with another jumper. Butler's Khyle Marshall gave the Bulldogs the lead back again at 54-53 with 2:49 remaining. Johann Mpondo hit a free throw to tie the game, then Mays hit a three to give the Raiders a three-point lead.
Butler has had an issue this season in figuring out who their go-to player would be in crunch time. No player on the Butler squad averaged double figures in scoring. Tonight, the upperclassmen would provide the glue needed to hold things together. Andrew Smith took a cue from his former Glue Stick tag-team partner Matt Howard and developed an outside shot this season. His stroke is still pretty robotic, but effective at 35 percent from behind the arc. Smith hit a three to tie the game at 57 with 1:34 to go. Mays would answer again with a pair of free throws, but Smith hit another superhoop from almost the exact same spot to give Butler a 60-59 lead.
Ronald Nored would then be called upon to seal the victory. Nored isn't the best free-throw shooter in the world, at only 61 percent. But in the last couple of minutes of a game, that percentage seems to jump 20 points. He got a stop on Mays then converted two free throws to extend the Bulldog lead to three.
Butler has rarely won easily this year, and they wouldn't tonight. Chase Stigall fouled Wright State's John Balwigaire in the corner while attempting a three. Balwigaire would make all three and the game was tied at 62. Brad Stevens put his trust in Nored to run the offense without a timeout. With 10 seconds to go, Nored started his drive down the lane and was fouled before he could dish the ball to a wide-open Marshall. Nored stepped to the line and made the first free throw. With only 2.7 seconds on the clock, Stevens instructed Nored to miss the second. Nored complied, but was ruled to have crossed the foul line before the ball hit the rim (a dodgy call replays showed). So no time ran off the clock.
That gave Wright State one last chance. Mays, who had hit a buzzer-beater earlier in the year against Idaho, got the ball on the inbounds pass and managed to get an open look at a 35-footer. It started on-line, but drifted to the right and bounced off the rim and to the floor. The final was 63-62 in favor of Butler. The Bulldogs had escaped the pain cave, but will have to shake off the bludgeoning in quick order when they travel to Detroit for a Sunday afternoon tip.
BUTLER 63, at WRIGHT STATE 62 01/06/2012
BUTLER 9-7 (3-1) -- A. Smith 8-12 1-2 19; R. Jones 2-3 1-2 5; C. Stigall 0-4 0-0 0; C. Hopkins 3-9 2-2 8; R. Nored 3-3 4-5 11; K. Marshall 7-8 0-5 14; J. Aldridge 3-4 0-0 6; K. Woods 0-1 0-0 0; E. Fromm 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-46 8-16 63. WRIGHT STATE 8-9 (3-2) -- R. Arceneaux 4-9 0-0 11; J. Mays 6-9 10-11 24; J. Balwigaire 2-9 3-3 7; J. Mpondo 5-7 2-3 12; A. Battle 0-5 0-0 0; A. Pacher 2-6 0-0 4; T. Sledge 0-2 1-2 1; M. Vest 1-1 0-0 3; C. Darling 0-0 0-0 0; V. Hall 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-48 16-19 62.
Three-point goals: BUTL 3-16 (R. Nored 1-1; C. Stigall 0-3; A. Smith 2-3; E. Fromm 0-1; C. Hopkins 0-5; K. Marshall 0-1; J. Aldridge 0-1; K. Woods 0-1), WRIG 6-15 (J. Mays 2-2; A. Battle 0-1; A. Pacher 0-2; M. Vest 1-1; R. Arceneaux 3-5; J. Balwigaire 0-4); Rebounds: BUTL 27 (R. Jones 5), WRIG 24 (J. Mays 7); Assists: BUTL 15 (R. Jones 4), WRIG 9 (A. Battle 3); Total Fouls -- BUTL 20, WRIG 22; Fouled Out: BUTL-R. Jones; WRIG-A. Battle.