By Nancy Armour/The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — After 25 years, “Hoosiers” is getting a rewrite.
One more win, and plucky Butler will give it an even better ending.
Gordon Hayward had 19 points and nine rebounds, including one with 2 seconds left that sealed the game. The small school looked anything but, taking down another of college basketball’s biggest names with a 52-50 victory over Michigan State in the Final Four on Saturday. Butler (33-4) now plays Duke in Monday night’s title game.
In its hometown, no less.
Hollywood couldn’t write this any better.
“We’ve been talking about the next game all year, and it’s great to be able to say the next game’s for a national championship,” Hayward said.
Michigan State (28-9) has been living on the edge all tournament, ravaged by injuries and squeaking from game to game, and this night was no different. After trailing by as much as seven in the second half, Draymond Green made a pair of free throws to pull Michigan State within 50-49 with 56 seconds left.
Ronald Nored missed a jumper, and Michigan State got the rebound. But Hayward wouldn’t give the driving Green an inch, forcing him to put up an awkward layup that didn’t come close. Nored scooped up the rebound, and Green had no choice but to foul him, ending the big fella’s game.
Nored made both, and the Bulldogs had a 52-49 lead with 6 seconds to play.
After a timeout, the Spartans inbounded the ball and Butler was all over them, choosing to foul rather than take a chance on the Spartans getting of a 3 — like they did to beat Maryland at the buzzer. Korie Lucious made the first and bricked the second as Hayward came up with the ball to seal the victory and set off a party the likes of which Indiana hasn’t seen since tiny Milan beat Muncie Central for the state title in 1954, the real-life inspiration for “Hoosiers.”
Although the Bulldogs are no plucky underdog, there’s no doubting the connections between “Hoosiers” and Butler’s magical run. In the movie, the final score was 42-40. The actual Milan final score — 32-30.
And Saturday night, 52-50, extending the nation’s best winning streak to 25 — and counting.
And watching it all unfold was Bobby Plump, whose buzzer-beating jumper gave Milan the win.
“Both sides really battled,” said Butler coach Brad Stevens, who has waited all of three years to play for his first national title. “We were lucky to be up 2 at the end.”
Luck had nothing to do with it. More like good, old fundamentals and pesky defense.
Or, as the Bulldogs call it, the Butler way.
They forced fellow No. 5 seed Michigan State into 16 turnovers and held the Spartans to zero — yes, zero — fast-break points. And they outrebounded Michigan State on the offensive glass, 11 to 8.
They also outmuscled the bigger, bulkier Spartans and have the battle scars to prove it. Hayward had a bloody lip by the time the night was over. Matt Howard got knocked silly in a collision with Green. Shelvin Mack spent most of the second half on the bench with cramps in his legs, and Stevens was unsure of his availability for Monday.
It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of finishes — Butler went almost 11 minutes without a field goal after Willie Veasley’s layup with 12:19 left — and it almost seemed as if the first team to score a basket was going to win. But the Bulldogs weren’t flustered to be playing on the game’s biggest stage and locked down whenever they had to.
Durrell Summers, who had averaged 20 points in Michigan State’s first four tournament games, was held to 14. Green had 12 as did Lucious, who was playing in place of injured point guard — and leading scorer — Kalin Lucas. Senior Raymar Morgan, who spent most of the game in foul trouble, finished with just four points.
The finish was a bitter disappointment for the Spartans, who had hoped to get back to the national title game after being routed by North Carolina in Detroit last year. Instead, they’ll have to watch another group of local boys delight the hometown fans.
“We didn’t get it done,” Izzo said. “I thought the physical play bothered us — that surprised me.”
Or maybe all those injuries simply caught up to the Spartans.
“You keep putting yourself on the edge of a cliff, you’re not going be able to stand on it long,” Delvon Roe said.
Michigan State was without point guard Lucas, the 2009 Big Ten player of the year and its leader in scoring and assists, after he blew out his left Achilles’ tendon in the second-round victory over Maryland. Chris Allen has a bad foot, and Roe is playing on a torn meniscus in his right knee, so painful he says it’s like someone’s doing surgery on him while he’s playing.
As if those weren’t big enough holes to fill, the Spartans were fighting foul trouble all night. Morgan, the lone senior starter, played just eight minutes the first half after picking up three fouls, and was shuffling in and out all second half. Roe also finished the game with four fouls.
Butler is the 11th team to play a Final Four in their homestate. Nobody has won it at home since UCLA in 1975, when the Final Four was down the road from Westwood in San Diego.
But the Bulldogs are on a wonderful ride, and they’ve got what seems like the entire Hoosier state on their side. When Hayward came up with that final rebound, Lucas Oil Stadium shook, the kind of celebration usually reserved for Peyton Manning.
With a baby face, Hayward easily could be mistaken for a fictional Jimmy Chitwood. But this kid is the real deal and could play on any team, big or small. He can shoot inside, outside, and he’s not afraid to do the dirty work, leading Butler with nine rebounds.
If not for his and Shelvin Mack’s play in the first half, the Bulldogs would be heading back to their dorm rooms instead of a downtown hotel.
Hayward scored Butler’s first four field goals, and he and Mack were the only Bulldogs to make anything from the field in the first half. Veasley? He was 0-for-2. Nored? Didn’t even get off a shot. Mustached Matt Howard? He took a seat six minutes into the game after getting whistled for his second foul.
Yet the Bulldogs managed to hang with the Spartans, going into halftime tied at 28 after Mack’s 3 with 35 seconds left.
The rest of the Bulldogs got in on the scoring fun at the start of the second half. Howard, Avery Jukes and Veasley all scored during an 8-4 run that gave Butler a 44-37 lead with 12:19 to play. It was the largest deficit Michigan State had faced this tournament — and it didn’t help that Morgan picked up his fourth foul during the spurt.
But the Bulldogs didn’t make another field goal until Hayward’s layup with less than 2 minutes to play. No matter, they just cracked down on defense, showing the rough-and-tumble Spartans they’re not the only ones who can get physical.
“I don’t know if I got a piece of the ball, maybe a piece of his arm,” Hayward said of grabbing that game-sealing rebound. “I’m just glad we got that last stop.”