My high school coach had a saying: "The most desperate team wins." In essence, the team that plays like it HAS to win -- gives relentless effort like its season is riding on the game -- usually wins.
That, in my eyes, is exactly what unfolded this afternoon as Butler knocked off No. 1 Indiana, 88-86 in overtime, in the opening game of the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs, who have become nationally known for pulling off upsets just like this one, played like their season was on the line, and the Hoosiers treated it like a normal game.
With key cogs Roosevelt Jones, Andrew Smith and Eric Fromm watching from the bench after fouling out, Butler walk-on Alex Barlow made a twisting 6-foot floater over Jordy Hulls with 2.3 seconds remaining for the game-winning bucket. Barlow had scored just 12 points this season and 18 for his career.
"It was a baseline screen," Butler coach Brad Stevens said of the final play, according to IUHoosiers.com. "We had run it all game. We had a couple of different options. One of the options is the guy on top can drive the basketball. Usually that's Roosevelt up there and Alex is usually a cutter or screener on the baseline. We felt like we had a lot of success in that action. We had to use or last time out with 19 seconds left to get the ball in. I thought that was our best bet moving forward. I didn't feel like we could call a set, because I didn't think we could dribble it around till 8 or 9 seconds because of the pressure. So let's just get into movement and see if we can figure out a way to get a basket."
Hulls' desperation half-court heave at the buzzer sailed wide, giving Butler it's first-ever win over a No. 1 team.
"Both teams have big-time character," Stevens told CBS' Clark Kellogg in his on-court postgame interview. "Nobody respects Indiana and their players and where they've come from and their coaches more than I do. It's an honor to get the chance to play in this event, and it's an honor to win. I'm happy with my team."
Jones -- who, guarded by Hulls, had the lone mismatch for the Bulldogs -- came up with a career-best game, totaling 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Hounded by Victor Oladipo for a majority of the game, Rotnei Clarke hit 7 of 19 from the floor, including 5 of 11 3-pointers, for 19 points. Smith outplayed Cody Zeller on his way to 12 points and nine boards. Fromm drilled a pair of first-half treys and finished with 10.
For Indiana, only one player (Oladipo) had a productive game. Oladipo, in addition to playing smothering defense on an elite shooter, was 7 for 10 from the field for 18 points, adding four assists, four steals, three rebounds and two blocks.
It was a poor showing from just about everybody else in cream and crimson. Here's the rap sheet, with shooting numbers in parenthesis: Zeller (4 for 9) 18 points and five rebounds; Yogi Ferrell (5 for 13) 12 points and a team-best eight rebounds; Hulls (4 for 11) 8 points and five assists; Watford (1 for 5) nine points; Sheehey (4 for 8) 13 points; and Abell (1 for 6) six points and four rebounds.
The Hoosiers only committed 13 turnovers while forcing 18, but 12 of those turnovers came from two players as Oladipo and Ferrell had six apiece. Ferrell also led the team in shot attempts, which is never a good sign.
For the first time this season, Indiana's much-publicized bench was outscored, with Butler's reserves scoring 24 to 19 for the Hoosiers' bench. Indiana (9-1) lost the battle on the glass, 37-31, also a first for this campaign.
Somehow, the Hoosiers outscored Butler 27-11 from the charity stripe and still couldn't win.
"We got out-rebounded," Zeller said. "There are a lot of little things that we need to figure out, but that's what we'll do. We will get back to work and figure them out."
Butler (8-2), more than any team in recent memory, is a program that you can't let hang around because they have a remarkable ability to win close games. Ask Pittsburgh. Ask Xavier. Ask Syracuse. Ask Florida. And, now, ask Indiana.
The Bulldogs stayed in the game by just out-scrapping the Hoosiers in the first half, turning the paint into a backyard brawl. If there was a 50-50 ball to be had, Butler got it. A long rebound, the Bulldogs were the first one to it. In all, Butler out-rebounded Indiana 23-14 in the first half, including 10-4 on the offensive glass.
"To me," said Indiana coach Tom Crean, "a big place we need to improve is in our rebounding, and we've got to keep showing up in our defense with confidence. I have no complaints whatsoever with the amount of energy our guys played with or how hard they competed. Our spirit wavered a little bit based on the score, and we've got to play the same game in the spirit we made the comeback with. Hopefully we will learn from that, and I'm excited about getting back to practice. I'm excited about the rebounding drills we are going to do even though I'm not sure there are many people who are going to share my excitement about that, because right now that's an area that we really need to prove ourselves."
Indiana threatened to pull away early in the second stanza. Oladipo swiped a steal and hammered home a two-handed jam on the other end to put the Hoosiers up 42-35 with 17:08 to play.
That wound up being Indiana's largest lead of the game.
The Hoosiers -- one of the nation's most efficient offensive teams (the most-efficient coming in to today) -- were done in by a 7-minute, 37-second stretch without a field goal.
During the drought, Indiana was 0 for 5 from the floor with four turnovers, preventing a complete collapse by hitting 7 for 11 from the free throw line. When the stretch started, Indiana led 54-48. When it ended on an Abell and-one with 3:34 to play, the Hoosiers trailed 67-63, a 10-point swing.
After Jones made a pair of free throws (he was shooting 40 percent from the line), Smith dropped in a driving layup to put Butler in front 71-64 with 2:26 to go.
Indiana, in desperation mode, went to a full-court press and forced a pair of Butler turnovers down the stretch, scoring five straight points from the free throw line to give itself a shot to force overtime. Ferrell, mired in one of the worst games of his young career, nailed that shot, swishing a game-tying 3-pointer with 6.1 ticks on the clock.
Chase Stigall raced down the court and had a decent look at a game-winning 3-pointer, but it bounced off the iron.
With Jones, Smith and Fromm already fouled out, and Indiana gushing with confidence after Ferrell's 3-pointer, Butler didn't figure to have much of a chance in overtime. But did the Bulldogs have a good chance at the start of the game?
A Sheehey steal and dunk followed by two Zeller freebies put the Hoosiers ahead 84-80 with 2:16 left in the extra session.
Then, Stigall made the game's biggest play to get Butler right back in it. After missing a 3-point try from the wing, Stigall beat everyone on the court to the long rebound and kicked it to Clarke, who found himself with a little space, albeit way beyond the arc, in a scramble situation. Clarke pulled the trigger from Noblesville and nailed it, cutting the Bulldogs' deficit to one.
Stigall buried a 3-pointer of his own on the next possession to nose Butler in front 86-84 with 1:03 remaining.
"We're in trouble when it's 84-80," Stevens said, "with three of our guys sitting on the bench next to me. Then Rotnei hits one off a loose ball, and Chase hits a big one."
Zeller knotted the score with a layup with 19 ticks on the clock, prompting Butler to call a timeout.
Stevens put the ball in the hands of Barlow, who dribbled out most of the remaining time before driving to the bucket and lofting in a game-winning floater with 2.3 seconds to play.
"Once it got down to six, there was no hesitation," Barlow said. "I was going to shoot that unless Rotnei or Kellen (Dunham) got wide, wide open. I just figured I would throw it up to the rim. If I missed it, I knew they wouldn't get a shot off. Luckily it bounced in. Zeller was out (of the game), so there wasn't really anybody inside. There weren't really any shot-blockers or threats. I just tried to get as deep and I could and float it up there once I saw the clock wind down."
Indiana joins North Carolina, Northwestern and Marquette on Butler's list of impressive pre-conference victories this season. The Hoosiers return to Assembly Hall Wednesday to take on Mount Saint Mary's at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
What went wrong for the Hoosiers?
- Well, first and foremost, Butler flat out beat up Indiana on the glass and in the paint. For most of the game, Zeller was a complete non-factor (see: one first-half rebound) and was outplayed by Smith.
- Here was another key: Jones and Smith, who checked into the game with four fouls apiece at the nine-minute mark, didn't foul out until the final minutes of regulation as Indiana repeatedly settled for jumpers over the last 10 minutes rather than attacking the basket.
- Butler did a fantastic job of making Indiana uncomfortable offensively, something that only Georgetown's zone had done thus far. The Bulldogs forced (or just let) Indiana guys play to their weaknesses -- Ferrell shooting jumpers, Oladipo driving to his left, Watford driving anywhere, Abell misfiring on mid-range shots, etc. Indiana never had a stretch where things "clicked" offensively.
- Was Indiana's soft schedule was a factor? Maybe. Indiana certainly hadn't been challenged from a physicality standpoint the way it was today.
- Indiana still hasn't gotten over the hump away from home. Indiana has played three lackluster games this season, and all three were away from Assembly Hall. If the Hoosiers want to become elite, they need to play better on the road (and at neutral sites).
- There were two knowns coming into this game: Butler plays physically and Indiana pushes the tempo. The Bulldogs, with the exception of some steals and dunks by the Hoosiers, significantly limited Indiana's transition points. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers never really adjusted to the street fight that was every rebound and loose ball.
- Lastly, with Oladipo on Clarke, which was a great battle to watch, it meant that Hulls or Ferrell was stuck guarding a much bigger player. That matchup, like I alluded to before, was Jones vs. Hulls. Jones absolutely terrorized Hulls, especially in the first half, grabbing rebounds at will and nearly messing around and getting a triple double.
All in all, a tip of the cap to Butler. It took an incredible amount of toughness to bounce back in overtime after Ferrell's heart-breaking 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs have toughness by the boatloads.
The Bulldogs' recipe for pulling off upsets -- play physical, make the opponent uncomfortable, relentlessly attack the glass, find a way to be in the game late and then make big shots in big moments -- worked to perfection. It's never fun to watch Indiana lose, but if they're going to go down, it might as well be to a team that plays (and coaches) basketball the way Butler does.