Monson: Dream ending real enough for Butler's Bulldogs
Like some cheap device out of a spent Hollywood script, Willie Veasley's three-point shot bounced hard off the tin, up, up, up into the air, and then dropped back down, down, down, seemingly in super slo-mo, straight through the heart of a No. 1 seed.
But it was not cheap, it was not a device, and it was no script.
It was real, and one of the prominent reasons for, and the key moment in, Butler's 63-59 win over Syracuse in their West Regional matchup Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
What was going through Veasley's mind right then and there?
"Just pure excitement," he said. "Just relief that we found that shot."
And that the shot, some-ridiculous-how, found its way home.
The attempt, taken with 1:48 left in a one-point game, gave the fifth-seeded Bulldogs just enough separation to do something they have never done in their history: make it to the Elite Eight. One more win on Saturday, and Butler will be headed back to Indianapolis to play in front of its fans at the Final Four.
If that happens, maybe all of us will make irresistible comparisons between Butler and Hickory High from the film "Hoosiers," the climax of which was a championship game filmed in Butler's home gym -- Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Back, first, to reality, to a game most people thought Butler couldn't win. Syracuse, after all, had crushed its first two opponents in the tournament, and was favored now by some to take the whole thing.
But Thursday night, it was the Orange who looked like the team afflicted by a case of the shakes against an imposing opponent, allowing Butler 23 points off of 18 turnovers, including 14 off of 12 in the first half alone.
The Orange basically handled the ball as though it were a stink bomb and shot it like they were heaving steel beams onto the back of big rig. That, along with Veasley's shot, was the difference in the game.
Butler took a 10-0 lead straight away and Syracuse didn't convert its first basket until more than seven minutes had elapsed. By that time, the Orange were down by double digits. It stayed that way through the first half.
Much of the talk beforehand had centered on whether Butler could manage enough points over, around, through Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
It could, but just barely.
The Bulldogs, who had tossed up enough threes this season to have them account for 40 percent of their total offense, made just six of 24 from beyond the arc here. After Syracuse tightened the margin down to two points, midway through the second half, Butler star forward Gordon Hayward dusted one to preserve the lead. It didn't last. Over the next five minutes, Syracuse rolled to a 54-50 lead, thanks to a couple of its own three-point shots. Over that span, Butler did its part, too, going in excess of six minutes without a basket.
But through the final three minutes, the Bulldogs outscored the Orange, 13-5, including Veasley's dramatic up-and-in, and took advantage, rather fittingly, of three consecutive Syracuse fumbles.
"The game was a story of turnovers," Boeheim said.
The Orange offering them and Butler cashing them in.
"We just beat ourselves in the first half," said Syracuse guard Andy Rautins. "We did a better job of attacking in the second. Like I said, we beat ourselves."
Still, they had enough help from Butler, with stiff, physical man-to-man defense and clutch play, and from the fates themselves, with Veasley's shot wonderfully caroming up, up, up, and spinning down, down, down, for the seemingly fictional ending to become not only real, not only justified, but also deserved.
The Bulldogs rally past No. 1 seed Syracuse with an 11-0 run in the final minutes. › D2