NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Of course Butler erased a late deficit. Of course the Bulldogs hit a clutch 3-pointer late in overtime. Of course they’re going back to the Final Four.
This is the Butler Way.
Shelvin Mack scored 27 points, including five in overtime, and Butler returned to the Final Four with a 74-71 victory over Florida on Saturday.
Matt Howard scored 14 and Khyle Marshall added 10 for the Bulldogs (27-9), who showed again they simply won’t give in, climbing out of an 11-point hole in the second half.
Mack’s 3-pointer with 1:21 left in overtime gave Butler the lead for good at 72-70.
Kenny Boynton missed a long 3 that could have given Florida (29-8) the lead with a little under 20 seconds left. Alex Tyus appeared to have the offensive rebound, but Howard tied him up and the possession arrow favored Butler.
Florida had to foul Mack with 10.6 seconds to go, and he hit both shots for the final margin.
Vernon Macklin had a career-high 25 points for second-seeded Florida, the third-straight higher seed from a major conference to be vanquished by the Bulldogs.
Boynton finished with 17 points and Tyus had his second-straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Butler had to overcome Florida’s size advantage and a number of its own mistakes.
In regulation, the Bulldogs made 10 of 20 free throws and shot 39.6 percent (21 of 53), including 8 of 30 from 3-point range. Yet they somehow found a way to survive to overtime, when they hit all seven foul shots and three of their eight field goals.
Remarkably, Butler also outrebounded the Gators, 41-34.
Now the Bulldogs are one win away from a second straight appearance in the national championship game.
Florida appeared to be taking control when Tyus, the leading scorer and rebounder in Florida’s overtime win over BYU, got loose for a pair of soaring dunks, then added two free throws and a driving floater during a 12-1 run that gave the Gators a 51-40 lead with 9:26 left.
Howard’s basket inside as he was fouled snapped the run, then seldom-used reserve Chrishawn Hopkins, who’d just set up Howard’s score, added a 3 as Butler slowly clawed its way back again, finally tying it at 57 with 3:03 to go on the second of consecutive driving layups by Mack.
Macklin, who’d been limited by foul trouble in the second half — he committed his fourth with 9:02 left — returned to hit a free throw and a layup on a strong move inside to make it 60-57. Mack’s free throws cut it to one point and Howard had a chance to give Butler the lead after drawing a foul with 30.7 seconds left.
He missed his second free throw, then Florida’s Irving Walker missed a long pull-up jumper — his eighth straight miss to that point — forcing overtime.
Butler initially took a 67-64 lead in the overtime on Ronald Nored’s free throws, but Florida came back with a couple of clutch 3s. Boynton’s tied it 67, then Walker finally hit his first field goal from 3 to put the Gators up 70-69.
That’s when Mack responded with his big 3 that propelled Butler to its latest upset.
Butler had a couple of good omens early on. Mack hit his first 3 off the backboard, Chandler Parsons uncharacteristically missed a layup and Butler followed that by hustling for a long offensive rebound on the other end to set up Mack’s second 3. After another jumper by Mack, Butler had an early 8-4 lead and the solid start they were looking for.
Soon after, though, the 6-foot-10 Macklin went to the one shot in his repertoire that Butler was bound to have trouble defending — the jump hook.
Macklin made a six of them in the first half and added a strong, spinning baseline drive for a layup as he made seven of his first eight shots. One of his jump hooks over Howard gave Florida a 25-15 lead with about 7 minutes left in the first half.
Butler needed outside shots to start falling to stay in the game, and senior backup Zach Hahn was the answer. His first 3 ignited a 7-0 run and his second, an open look set up by Howard, pulled Butler to 27-25.
Florida maintained a small lead the remainder of the half, but Marshall’s putback of a missed 3 in the final seconds got the Bulldogs to 33-32 at halftime.
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