- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Matt Howard stood at the free-throw line Saturday with 0.8 seconds left and a whole nation waiting to see if Butler could eliminate another No. 1 seed.

He made it look easy.

Buzzer-beating shots and last-second free throws have become a way of life for Butler recently, sustaining two consecutive runs into the NCAA’s regional round and turning the Bulldogs into the Ice Men.

“There was no question he (Howard) was going to make that free throw. You just knew it,” coach Brad Stevens said Sunday. “It’s really, really hard to do that, but Matt stepped up and did it.”

Whatever it takes, Butler almost always seems to get the job done.

Before Howard’s free throw and intentionally missed second shot sealed Saturday’s bizarre victory, it was Andrew Smith’s inadvertent tip to Howard for the layup winner against Old Dominion.

Before that, it was Howard’s pick at midcourt that gave former teammate Gordon Hayward an open look for a half-court heave that nearly beat Duke in last year’s title game.

And before that, it was Hayward’s rebound to seal the Final Four win over Michigan State and before that it was Hayward’s steal to preserve a second-round win over Murray State.

How does Butler do it? They say they simply focus on all the little things and making big plays part of their regular routine.

“I’ve just been fortunate to be in the right position,” Howard said. “You can’t get much easier than a layup and a free throw.”

Teammates and coaches have different explanations for the last-second heroics.

Shooting guard Shelvin Mack, whose foul with 1.4 seconds left Saturday nearly cost Butler the game, believes the success is a direct result of Stevens‘ calm, confident sideline demeanor. Mack believes that resonates with a veteran team and has helped the Bulldogs to stay composed when others come unglued.

The win over the top-seeded Panthers is a perfect example. While the officials used replay to check the clock after Mack’s foul, Butler was already calling a play and trying to console the distraught guard.

“They kept telling me there would be another possession,” Mack said.

In Howard, Butler has an unflappable 6-foot-8 senior forward, former Horizon League player of the year and an academic All-American who has added a 3-point shot to his repertoire this season. He’s smart enough to understand where to go when a shot is taken and to know when to miss a free throw without being reminded.

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