For tonight's second game, the Milwaukee Panthers take on the Butler Bulldogs. The Panthers are the higher seed (4 vs. 5), but you would never know it looking at the fan sections. Not only are there lots more Butler fans in the house than Milwaukee fans, but according to a friend of mine who is a Panther fan, the Milwaukee pep band is otherwise occupied. It boggled his mind (mine too).
This game has a lot more excitement to it than the first game and it's barely started. Lots of intensity on both teams. YSU was more of an interloper in this tourney, never having gotten this far before. Both the Panthers and the Bulldogs have gone dancing multiple times in the past 10 years. They are playing with a lot more sense of purpose. Milwaukee hasn't scored yet and Butler only has a couple of layups, but both teams are scrapping for loose balls. The fan sections are much more vocal in this game as well.
The first half was a fierce defensive struggle with the half time score Butler 22 Milwaukee 18. Butler was ice cold from the field, but found their way to the basket quite a bit until Milwaukee started clamping down more. Milwaukee was settling for outside shooting, and wasn't faring much better than Butler, but eventually starting going into the post with some success. What made this game so much more exciting was all the loose ball scrappiness shown by both teams and all the alley oop dunks administered by Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith - lots of demonstrations of which fan base was the more vocal. Still, it was anybody's ballgame. One play, however, was an omen for how this game would turn out: around the half-way point, Ron Nored drove the lane, went airborne to lay the ball in the basket and in the process rode his defender piggy-back style all the way to the hoop. To add insult to injury, the basket was good and the cargo carrier was assessed a foul. It was that kind of night for the Panthers.
One of my favorite timeout activities is when one pep band has the floor and does the Hey chant, and the student section for the other team plays along, competing on the crucial part. It would be more of a fair fight if Panther fans were here in as big numbers as Bulldog fans.
Butler started the second half with double the intensity they brought in the first half, and slowly but surely pulled away from Milwaukee, who had a hell of a time keeping up since many of their shots were glancing off the side of the rim. They made one run to cut a 13 point lead down to 9, but Butler quickly responded with a run of their own to push the lead back up to 16, to the delight of the mostly partisan, albeit traveling crowd.
Then came something you don't expect to see from a Butler player: a technical for taunting. Butler is human too, folks. Freshman Roosevelt Jones scored a basket and then learned the lesson Valpo's Richie Edwards learned up in Milwaukee: NCAA officials are cracking down on taunting. He also earned himself a seat on the bench and a lengthy tongue lashing from his coach, who almost surely has nipped that instinct in the bud, once and for all. Meanwhile, Milwaukee scored 4 straight points and tried to cash in on the momentum swing, but to no avail. Before too long the 14 point deficit had ballooned to 20+ again, and what began as a titanic struggle ended like a contest where one participant seems to be leading a charmed life and the other one can't throw the ball in the ocean to save their lives. And they could be forgiven if it felt like they had played the game at Hinkle Fieldhouse instead of the ARC.
After the game, the Milwaukee fans I spoke to emphatically urged a Valpo smackdown in the semifinals tomorrow. When you lose to the perennial gold standard (at least for the past 4 or 5 years), it's really hard not to feel malice in your heart when they prevail again, and you seek to sublimate that anger by rooting against them in their next game. I understand the emotion all too well.
As for me, that next team is my team. Butler is the team we've been waiting for this whole week. They stand in our way of a date on Championship Tuesday, and I aim to be right here at the ARC to take that game in, no matter who wins the other semifinal game. It is hard to defeat a team 3 times in one season, but Valpo did just that in 2008 against Wright State. The Crusaders don't care who they play. Their attitude, once again, is Bring It On. What a spectacle it should be. And let Butler fans understand whose House this truly is.
BUTLER 71, MILWAUKEE 49 03/02/2012
BUTLER 20-13 (11-7) -- K. Marshall 8-13 1-5 17; R. Jones 8-11 1-2 17; R. Nored 1-7 3-5 5; C. Hopkins 2-6 3-4 7; C. Stigall 2-5 0-0 6; A. Smith 4-8 0-0 8; E. Fromm 2-4 0-0 4; J. Aldridge 0-1 2-2 2; K. Woods 1-1 0-0 2; G. Butcher 0-1 1-2 1; A. Barlow 1-1 0-0 2; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-58 11-20 71. MILWAUKEE 20-13 (11-7) -- K. Williams 3-9 1-3 8; J. Haarsma 3-11 1-4 9; R. Allen 2-5 4-6 8; P. Gulley 1-7 1-1 3; T. Meier 2-6 3-4 8; K. Kelm 2-4 1-2 6; S. Boga 2-4 0-0 5; R. Haggerty 0-1 2-2 2; E. Richard 0-0 0-0 0; D. Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 13-22 49.
Three-point goals: BUTL 2-12 (R. Nored 0-4; C. Stigall 2-5; A. Smith 0-1; E. Fromm 0-1; C. Hopkins 0-1), MILW 6-23 (T. Meier 1-5; R. Haggerty 0-1; K. Williams 1-4; J. Haarsma 2-6; K. Kelm 1-2; R. Allen 0-1; S. Boga 1-1; P. Gulley 0-3); Rebounds: BUTL 42 (K. Marshall 10), MILW 23 (J. Haarsma 6); Assists: BUTL 11 (R. Nored 6), MILW 7 (K. Williams 3); Total Fouls -- BUTL 19, MILW 18; Fouled Out: BUTL-None; MILW-None.