- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

With just seconds left to play and the score tied at 58, Butler guard Shawn Vanzant dribbled toward the basket, looking to set up for a final shot. What followed wasn’t in anyone’s script.

“First of all, I read the play wrong. I should have [given] it to Drew [forward Andrew Smith] a lot earlier. I thought he was sailing, but he was posting up,” Vanzant said.

He tried to take a step back and take a shot, but his feet wouldn’t cooperate.

“I don’t know if I stepped on his foot or what. I was all falling down, trying to get the ball to the basket, and hopefully one of my teammates could grab it and score. And luckily, they did,” Vanzant said.

With barely any time left on the clock, the game looked to be headed toward overtime, until Smith knocked the ball off the backboard and forward Matt Howard went up for the put back; the ball in the air as the buzzer sounded. The shot went in.

The Butler players and fans celebrated with exuberance, while the ODU players watched in stunned silence as their season, and their tournament hopes came to an end.

“[I was] shocked, really. I was praying to God. That red light came on before the ball left his hands. And then when I saw the replay, the shock just turned to hurt. So that seemed like it kind of stabbed me in the heart,” said ODU center Frank Hassell.

Then Hassell added, “It’s all good though.”

Hassell scored 20 points, but was held to five rebounds, as Butler dominated ODU on the glass 32-29, ODU’s lowest rebounding total for the season. Howard and Smith led the way for Butler, each with 33 points. Vanzant added 32 and guard Ronald Nored scored 31.

The game featured 10 ties and 22 lead changes, and the neither team led by more than six points during the game.

“In an ideal world, that’s exactly what you would envision an eight -nine matchup to be. Both teams came out shooting the basketball well. Both team kind of unusually found their defensive rhythm later and after the fact. Sometimes it goes the other way in a first round game,” said Butler coach Brad Stevens.

“Close finishes are nothing new to the Butler Bulldogs. The last three NCAA tournament games they have played in been decided by a two-point margin, including last year’s 61-59 loss to Duke.

“We were in this situation a lot last year. Obviously in a different situation, but even after they scored and tied the game, I had no doubt we were going to win the game. I didn’t think we were going to win it that way. But when you’ve been in those situations and been through the battles and the close games and won them different ways, you just have confidence that you’re going to be able to pull it out,” Howard said.

Although he called the loss disappointing, ODU coach Blaine Taylor said he couldn’t be prouder of his players.

“It was a gutty performance. The second half was so physical, especially around the basket. It was a well played game. It was a man’s game, not a boy’s game. There is only one team in the Tournament that doesn’t have this experience [losing]. That’s part of the madness, part of the magic. This game will steal your heart and break your heart,” Taylor said.

The loss brings ODU’s NCAA Tournament record to 3-11, while Butler’s improves to 14-10.

“Many of these games come down to the last minute; the last second. My heart goes out to these kids. But they all have bright futures. Life will go on,” Taylor said.

“If this is the worst thing that happens to them in life, they’re all going to have a pretty good life.”

The second game of the day featured the number one-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers against the number 16-seeded UNC-Asheville Bulldogs, and history remained intact, as the Bulldogs fell to the Panthers, 74-51.

UNC-Asheville managed to stay with Pitt during the first half, training only by five points, 30-25 at halftime. During the second half, the Panthers pulled away, outscoring the Bulldogs 44-26.

Pitt junior guard Ashton Gibbs led all scorers with 26 points, 20 coming in the second half. Pitt also dominated UNC-Asheville on the boards, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 50-27. Junior guard Matt Dickey led the way for UNC-Asheville, scoring 21 points.

“We had a decent lead in the first half and a couple of turnovers brought it back. They’re a good team; they took advantage of those opportunities. I thought our defense was pretty good throughout, but our offense kind of slowed us down in the first half,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon.

The Pitt Panthers have a record of 23-23 in 23 NCAA Tournament appearances. The Panthers defensive pressure held the Bulldogs to just 17 field goals, which matched the team’s lowest output of the season.

“It starts on the defensive end. You gotta play defense. Our coaches do a great job of scouting the other team, so now it was just about executing our defensive schemes and really rebounding the ball,” Gibbs said.

The Panthers and Bulldogs will face one another in a third round matchup on Saturday at the Verizon Center, with the game time still to be determined.