Butler, Kansas St. reach elite eight No. 1 seed Kentucky stops Cornell, 62-45
SALT LAKE CITY — Willie Veasley glanced up while running back on defense as his 3-pointer bounced high off the rim like so many of Butler's shots had before.
He paused, though, as the ball drifted back, caromed off the backboard and fell through the net — a huge bounce that helped seal the Bulldogs' 63-59 upset of top-seeded Syracuse last night in the West Regional semifinals.
Veasley followed his fortunate 3 with a tip-in as the Bulldogs scored 11 straight points and became the latest mid-major team to knock off a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Now, after reaching the regional finals for the first time in school history, Butler is one win from going home to Indianapolis for the Final Four. The Bulldogs next play second-seeded Kansas State, which beat Xavier, 101-96, in double overtime last night.
"I was headed down the court on defense because I figured it was going to go over the top of the backboard. But I looked back and it came down and went through," said Veasley, who finished with 13 points. "That was a H-O-R-S-E shot. I've never made a shot quite like that."
Veasley pumped his fist and grinned as he continued toward the other end. It was fitting that he was already headed back on defense. Instead of Syracuse's vaunted zone controlling the game, Butler's pesky man-to-man defense was the difference as the Bulldogs scrapped through poor shooting and won their 23rd straight game.
"We said this word over and over in Indianapolis, and that word is 'resolve.' These guys have resolve," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "It's hard to measure, but they've got it."
The Bulldogs (31-4) certainly did in the last five minutes, holding the Orange without a point from the time Syracuse went up by four with 5:23 left until a too-little-too-late layup with 35 seconds remaining.
Gordon Hayward scored 17 points and started the celebration while dribbling out the clock after the Bulldogs forced Syracuse into its 18th turnover.
The Orange (30-5) made only three more field goals than turnovers in another loss in the round of 16. Syracuse hasn't played in the regional finals since winning the 2003 national title.
"The game was a story of turnovers. They didn't make turnovers," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They were really good with the basketball. We just had 18 turnovers and you can't give away that many possessions."
Ronald Nored finished with five steals for Butler and hit a 3-pointer to start the decisive run.
"Under any circumstance, I think we're poised. You have to be tough," said Nored, whose 3-pointer with 3:14 left cut Syracuse's lead to 54-53.
Wes Johnson had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Orange, the second No. 1 seed to go down. Northern Iowa stunned top-ranked Kansas in the second round of the Midwest Regional last weekend.
KANSAS STATE 101, XAVIER 96
SALT LAKE CITY — For those who don't already, it's time to Fear the Beard. After an amazing, double-overtime victory, Jacob Pullen and Kansas State are one win from the Final Four.
Scruffy beard and all, Pullen hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second overtime and finished with 28 points to help the second-seeded Wildcats outlast No. 6 Xavier in an epic game in the West Regional semifinals.
"It was a classic," Pullen said. "It was two teams that didn't want their season to end."
The Wildcats (29-7) get to keep going. After knocking off one so called mid-major, they'll play another — fifth-seeded Butler — tomorrow to try to make their first Final Four since 1964. This is the first time Kansas State has made it this far in the NCAA tournament since 1988.
Hard to call Xavier (26-9) a loser on this night, though.
With the Musketeers trailing by three at the end of regulation, Terrell Holloway got fouled while heaving up a 30-footer with 5 seconds left and calmly made all three free throws. Xavier was down by three again at the end of the first overtime, but Jordan Crawford jacked up a 35-footer that hit nothing but net.
"It was just one of those moments," Pullen said.
Another great moment in a season that took on its own personality in January, when Pullen decided to let the beard he grows along his jaw turn into something Abe Lincoln could love — and the K-State administration went along with it, passing out fake beards to fans who came to Bramlage Coliseum.
Now, the whole team has facial hair and the fans wear T-shirts that say "Fear the Beard."
Only entertaining if the team plays well, and at this point, there's no arguing that.
With Pullen slowed down and in foul trouble, Denis Clemente kept Kansas State in it, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half.
Xavier led 93-91 with 1:23 left in the second overtime. Exhausted and in foul trouble, the Musketeers had no answer for Pullen at the end. He hit an open 3 from the top of the key for a 94-93 lead with 1:09 left. Jason Love made one of two free throws on the next possession, then Pullen hit the next 3 to make it 97-94.
Pullen and Clemente then combined for four straight free throws in the last 24 seconds to ice it.