Game #9-316: Gonzaga Bulldogs at Butler BulldogsJanuary 19, 2013 9:00 pm
There was a great deal of excitement this past summer around the Butler community when rumors started to fly that ESPN's College GameDay was considering a visit to Hinkle Fieldhouse for the upcoming basketball season. When it was confirmed that they'd be doing so for the Gonzaga game on January 19, that particular date became a highlight of the schedule. For all that Butler had accomplished in recent years, the school and the team had never quite received that degree of respect from "The Sports Leader," nor really had any other member of The Mid-Majority. Yes, even the gritty underdog craves attention, and college kids do like to be on TV, so everyone associated with Butler was eagerly looking forward to this day.
As the season progressed, all signs pointed to this being an epic showdown between the two programs that, as one of my friends described it, are like twins separated at birth. Each team had good reason to be very proud of its recent history, but also looked at the other with a degree of envy and appreciation of what they'd been able to achieve, given Gonzaga's decade and a half of sustained excellence and Butler's back-to-back runs to the national championship game. This season, the Zags rolled through a pre-conference schedule filled with major programs, especially exhibiting dominance over much of the Big XII; meanwhile, Butler got back to being Butler, beating high-profile opponents like North Carolina, Marquette, Indiana, and Vanderbilt, all away from their home court. Those in the know spoke of Gonzaga having perhaps its best team ever, while Butler looked capable of being a solid contender in the strong Atlantic 10. Then came January 12...
Rotnei Clarke had established himself as the focal point of the Butler offense, providing a perimeter scoring threat that had been desperately missing from last year's squad. His presence on the court attracted significant attention from opposing defenses, and made everyone else on the team more effective as a result. No matter the opponent, and no matter the situation, we quickly recognized that Rotnei was capable of giving our Dawgs a chance to win. When he picked up a steal against Dayton and drove in for a layup, he was fouled hard from behind by the Flyers' Matt Derenbecker, slammed his head into the basket support, and laid flat on the floor for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, the potential thrill and excitement of this basketball season was washed away and replaced with concern for Clarke's well-being and his long-term prognosis.
As that afternoon turned to evening, information started to leak out on Clarke's condition. He suffered no fractures, and he had no concussion, but did suffer a significant neck strain and had a lot of pain in his shoulders. He got to travel back to Indianapolis with the team, but would have to rest for at least a few days, and would be sidelined indefinitely. Collectively, the fan base breathed a sigh of relief, and we gradually turned our attention back to basketball. Butler had gutted out a win at Dayton, and then came home to beat Richmond, but mighty Gonzaga presented a greater challenge. I think we all recognized that this day of celebration could very well culminate in a rather humbling conclusion, but still had confidence that the team would put up a good fight with a top 10 opponent coming to town.
The doors to Hinkle opened at 8:00 AM for the 10:00 AM GameDay festivities with Rece, Digger, Jay, and Jalen. I didn't have much interest in making the trip down to Indianapolis for that, but did flip on the TV out of curiosity. Although they profiled a lot of games I didn't have much interest in, I thought the ESPN crew highlighted Hinkle Fieldhouse quite well, and gave some nice attention to the two teams without an overdose of "The Little Engine That Could" pablum. Many students got to be on TV, for better or worse, and Butler junior Kevin Schwartz drilled a halfcourt shot to win $18,000 and bring a little smile to several of us Indiana backyard gunners. We even learned that Rotnei Clarke likes to take three baths a day. All in all, it seemed to be a fairly positive exposure for the University, even if we did have to see Digger Phelps in a Hickory High jersey.
With the 9:00 PM tip time leaving me plenty of time to kill after catching a mid-afternoon game at IUPUI, I decided to pay a pre-game visit to the Bulldog statue at the southern exit from the Atherton Union, one of my favorite spots on campus. With a pat on his head for good luck, I headed into Hinkle with no idea what to expect.
This game had been sold out for over a month, so it was an unexpected, but still awesome, sight to watch the old barn gradually fill to capacity. I've been to a large majority of Butler home games for the past seven seasons, and in spite of their recent success, a sold-out Hinkle (or close to it) usually requires significant turnout from the visiting team's fans. I thought back to past games against Ohio State, Southern Illinois, Xavier, and Drake, during which the fieldhouse was packed, but this was different. While a few Gonzaga fans were seen scattered here and there, this was almost exclusively a Butler crowd, and they were ready to cheer on their team! Thirty minutes before the tip, the upper corner sections, which usually remain relatively empty, were packed full.
When the Bulldogs came out for warm-ups soon thereafter, there was a great roar from the crowd, and I knew this was likely to be a memorable evening. Finally, as warm-ups wound down, Dick Vitale moved to his broadcast position. Yep, this now qualified for big game status!
Before starting lineups are introduced this season, Butler has announced an individual to present the game ball to the officials. Usually this is some big-wig from a corporate sponsor, which I guess is the price you pay for getting corporate sponsorship. I usually find it mildly annoying, but I did like it when they had Bobby Plump present the game ball for the Evansville game. I wasn't sure what to expect when it was announced that tonight's game ball presenter was "a special and very fortunate individual," but when it was added "who'd really like to be playing tonight," the crowd erupted, as Rotnei Clarke walked over to hand the ball to the official. While he will have just a single season as a Bulldog, I'd say he's been fully accepted into the Butler community.
When the game began, it appeared as if our fears may be realized. Gonzaga big men Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris both powered their way to close-range baskets, guard Kevin Pangos (Butler's nemesis in last year's loss in Spokane) drilled a three-pointer, and forward Sam Dower came off the bench to knock down a couple of open perimeter shots. After six minutes, Gonzaga had jumped out to a 13-4 lead, and Butler appeared to be overmatched.
But then, the Bulldogs perimeter attack came to life. Three superhoops from Kellen Dunham and another from Chase Stigall spurred Butler to a 22-20 lead, with only Sam Dower providing a consistent scoring spark for Gonzaga. Olynyk responded with three straight baskets to pull the Zags back into the lead, but back-to-back threes from Andrew Smith and Chase Stigall put Butler back on top. Dower then closed the half with a three-pointer of his own, giving the visitors a one-point margin heading to the locker room.
At the break, I felt reasonably good about Butler's chances. They played off of Dower defensively to keep attention on Pangos and the two big men, and Dower converted numerous times to finish the half with 16 of their 33 points. We'd seen a similar experience in the recent win at St. Joseph's, when the Hawks' Chris Wilson knocked down five three-pointers in the first half, but could not maintain that blistering pace for the entire game.
Butler began the second half on a 5-0 run, with a runner in the lane by Roosevelt Jones and three-pointer from the corner by Dunham. From there, Butler maintained a lead between one and five points all the way through the final media time out. The game was relatively well-played, with tough defense being played by both teams. Butler's biggest struggle was at the free throw line, where they went one-for-two at almost every opportunity. Coming out of the timeout with 3:43 to play, Khyle Marshall went to the line, hit one of two (of course), giving Butler a four-point lead.
From that point on, the game was like an old-time heavyweight title bout, with each team trading proverbial punches. Gonzaga cut the lead to one, when Pangos, who'd been kept under control the whole game, drove into the lane, and passed the ball to David Stockton for a three-pointer from the right corner. 56-55 Butler.
Marshall missed a jump shot, but Pangos could not keep Jones away from the offensive rebound and fouled him. Again, of course, Jones hit one of two. 57-55 Butler.
Olynyk got loose behind the three-point line on the left wing, hesitated slightly, then missed on an open three-pointer, and the ball caromed out of bounds to Butler.
Pangos couldn't control Jones on his cut through the lane, and fouled him again. Once more, Jones hit one of two. On his miss on the second attempt, Andrew Smith pulled on Olynyk's left arm. Olynyk went to the line and hit both free throws. 58-57 Butler.
Jones got the ball on the left wing and spotted Marshall cutting from the deep right corner towards the basket. The alley-oop is a signature Butler play, and it was open for a thunderous dunk from Marshall, but Jones overthrew the pass - his seventh turnover of the game. The crowd moaned in agony.
Gonzaga had good ball movement on their next possession, Harris found a clear path to the basket down the left side of the lane, and converted the lay-up. 59-58 Gonzaga.
On the other end, Jones came off a screen and drove the lane with a short runner. Signature move from The Antitype! 60-59 Butler.
Harris answered again for Gonzaga, banking in a jump shot from the right wing high off the glass. 61-60 Gonzaga.
With Kellen Dunham fighting to get free on the right wing and drawing a lot of defensive attention, Alex Barlow drove toward the basket and never got stopped. His lay-up dropped in off the glass with 27 seconds to go. 27 seconds away from being the hero yet again! 62-61 Butler.
After Gonzaga used its last timeout, their offense seemed a little ragged for about ten seconds of the possession, then Pangos drove the lane, found a cutting Olynyk, who got hacked by Barlow with 4.6 seconds to play. Olynyk, with not a bit of apparent nervousness, drilled both free throws. 63-62 Gonzaga.
After a Butler timeout, designated inbound passer Emerson Kampen got the ball back to Barlow, who seemingly lost his balance and committed an obvious travel. That was pretty much the ballgame, barring a miracle finish.
I suspect you know what happened after that. Since the conclusion of the game, I've watched the replay of the final 3.5 seconds in Zapruder-like detail. With Gonzaga lacking a timeout, and Butler not using its last one, Jones heard Gonzaga coach Mark Few yell for Olynyk to post up and receive the inbound pass from Stockton. Marshall ran over to contest Stockton's pass, and Jones crowded Olynyk. Marshall's presence caused Stockton to loft a high lob toward the spot where Olynyk was standing, while some combination of a Jones shove and Olynyk voluntarily vacating that spot, resulted in the pass descending slowly into Jones' hands. Chaos ensued, with Stockton remaining standing out of bounds holding out his hands in disbelief while Jones and Olynyk both raced down court. Olynyk tried to fend off Jones with an arm bar, but Jones powered by him, and lofted a runner that dropped through the net at the buzzer. With that, the loudest crowd I'd ever heard throughout an entire game at Hinkle Fieldhouse made the single loudest roar I'd ever heard there. I may have witnessed better games, but not many, and not for quite some time. This featured two good teams, both playing well, with the game decided at the buzzer with a bit of Hinkle Magic!
at BUTLER 64, GONZAGA 63
GONZAGA 17-2 (4-0) -- K. Pangos 2-5 0-0 5; G. Bell Jr. 0-1 0-0 0; K. Olynyk 5-12 4-5 14; S. Dower 8-11 2-2 20; E. Harris 8-14 4-5 20; M. Hart 0-0 0-1 0; D. Stockton 1-2 0-0 3; G. Landry Edi 0-1 1-2 1; D. Barham 0-2 0-0 0; P. Karnowski 0-1 0-0 0; K. Dranginis 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-51 11-15 63.
BUTLER 16-2 (3-0) -- K. Dunham 4-9 2-3 14; A. Smith 3-5 0-2 7; A. Barlow 2-4 0-0 5; R. Jones 7-10 6-10 20; K. Marshall 3-9 2-4 8; C. Stigall 2-3 1-2 7; E. Fromm 0-1 1-2 1; K. Woods 1-2 0-0 2; A. Smeathers 0-1 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-44 12-23 64.
Three-point goals: GONZ 4-14 (D. Barham 0-2; S. Dower 2-2; E. Harris 0-2; K. Olynyk 0-1; D. Stockton 1-2; K. Dranginis 0-1; G. Landry Edi 0-1; K. Pangos 1-3), BUTL 8-19 (C. Stigall 2-3; A. Smith 1-2; E. Fromm 0-1; A. Smeathers 0-1; A. Barlow 1-3; K. Woods 0-1; K. Dunham 4-8); Rebounds: GONZ 24 (E. Harris 7), BUTL 25 (A. Smith 7); Assists: GONZ 14 (K. Pangos 6), BUTL 14 (A. Barlow 6); Total Fouls -- GONZ 19, BUTL 16; Fouled Out: GONZ-None; BUTL-None.