NCAA hoops: Final Four finally gives Butler reason to party
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — The school that never celebrates midnight madness to kick off the basketball season finally held a late-night campus party.
Sunday morning's March Madness bash was even better.
About eight hours after Butler beat second-seeded Kansas State 63-56 to reach the first Final Four in school history, the Bulldogs returned home to a large crowd and loud cheers.
"We've never had midnight madness here," coach Brad Stevens said with a smile. "So I guess this is it for us."
As the team arrived shortly before 3 a.m., two hours later than anticipated, fans who stood patiently in chilly temperatures and sporadic rain showers began chanting "Are you a Bulldog?" and swarmed the team buses.
Players were astounded by the welcome.
"It's sort of nuts," junior center Matt Howard said. "You know when we came back from the Sweet 16, there were about 20 people here. Look at it now."
Sophomore point guard Ronald Nored agreed that celebration was "awesome."
"There is nothing like coming home and being able to play the Final Four in front of the people who have been watching you all year," he said. "Everyone was texting me, telling me there were a ton of people here. But I didn't believe it."
The Hinkle Fieldhouse parking lot looked like a modern-day scene from the movie "Hoosiers."
Car horns started blaring at about 12:30 a.m., camera phones lit up the night sky and the sound of drums kept fans entertained as they waited for hours for the team to arrive.
What started out as a crowd of college students soon included fans ranging in age from toddlers to grandparents, turning a quiet Indianapolis residential neighborhood into a giant pep rally.
One fan who joined the party was 52-year-old Brian Clouse, a Butler alum and Indy resident who watched the final 66 seconds during a layover at the Dallas Fort-Worth airport. He's not normally a late-night guy, but the Bulldogs' success turned him into one Sunday morning.
"For Butler wins, like this I do stay up," he said. "I remember when we had 200 or 300 people after we beat Purdue. Now we've graduated to this."
Those who showed up Sunday morning hoped this was only the prelude to something much bigger.
The Bulldogs will face Michigan State or Tennessee in a national semifinal Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. That's only five miles from campus, making the Bulldogs the first team to play a Final Four in their hometown since UCLA in 1972.
As the upsets and Top 25 rankings have piled up over the last decade, celebrations have been reserved for the biggest accomplishments. Students didn't even rush the floor when Butler won the Horizon League tourney title, wrapping up a perfect 20-0 season against conference foes. And few talk about the school's new record winning streak, which hit 24 games Saturday and earned the team its first Final Four berth.
Those who know the Bulldogs best believe the team won't get caught up in the hype.
"All I can say is that this team and my grandson did one heck of a job," said Gordon Hayward, the grandfather of the Bulldogs star forward with the same name. "It's hard to realize what they've done. But they've got more work to do, more work to do."