No. 8 Butler advanced to the NCAA Championship game for the second straight year after outlasting No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth, 70-62, in the Final Four on April 2 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.
No one expected a month ago that two teams from mid-major conferences would face off in the Final Four, but both squads put on exciting performances in a contest that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
Butler coach Brad Stevens, who last year was the youngest coach at age 33 to appear in the NCAA Tournament finals, credited “good fortune” as one of the reasons his team was able to make it back this year.
“We’ve had a lot of good fortune, but I will say this,” Stevens continued, “There’s no better team I’ve been around that really cares about each other and is passionate about doing it together as a team.”
VCU senior forward Jamie Skeen led the game with 27 points, and helped his team leap out to nearly a double-digit lead early in the first half.
But Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack warmed up, scoring a team-high 24 points including a few big three-pointers that allowed the Bulldogs to regain the lead before halftime.
Mack maintained his shooting touch in the second half, making several contested shots while teammate Matt Howard dominated the glass with 8 rebounds, 4 gained on offense. The senior forward also scored 17 points, including 11 made from the free-throw line.
Butler (28-9) also played tough defense, which slowed the fast tempo offense of VCU (28-12).
“VCU is a really great team, they inspired a lot of people, including us,” Stevens said. “We just had some of our guys make crucial plays in the end.”