Regional action at the Verizon Center concluded March 19 with two stellar games, as the tournament’s first defeat of a No. 1 seed in a controversial finish and the play of three Big East teams helped push attendance into capacity numbers.

No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pittsburgh 70

Two fouls which occurred 25 and 92 feet away from the basket decided an epic third round clash between the No. 8 seed Butler Bulldogs (25-9) and No. 1 seed Pittsburgh Panthers (28-6).

With Butler ahead 70-69, Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack fouled Pittsburgh senior forward Gilbert Brown near midcourt with 1.4 seconds remaining. Brown sank the first free throw before missing the second, and that’s when things really got interesting. Butler senior forward Matt Howard then corralled the rebound before being fouled under his own basket with 0.9 seconds left, sending Pittsburgh’s crowd into an uproar.

Howard connected on the first attempt before intentionally missing the second to allow his teammates to gather in the rebound to control the ball for the remaining ticks on the clock and push Butler into the Sweet 16 for a second consecutive season.

“Hard way for that game to end,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said in a televised interview after the game. “As a competitive guy, I feel bad for Pittsburgh. I would’ve felt bad for us if we wouldn’t have won but I think they both probably were fouled I guess but our guys hung in there. These guys have been pretty good.”

No. 3 Connecticut 69, No. 6 Cincinnati 58

No. 6 Connecticut Huskies’ junior guard Kemba Walker may not win the collegiate MVP award, but he’s clearly been the best player for his team. Walker added another impressive performance to his season, scoring 33 points to lead his team past No. 6 Cincinnati. Cincinnati was able to keep other UConn players in check, except for their leading scorer who also added six rebounds and five assists.

Connecticut returns to the Sweet 16 just one year after rumors circulating around their prominent coach Jim Calhoun. At that time, Calhoun was suspended for three Big East conference games in 2011-2012 for recruiting violations, and the school was placed under a three-year probation period from 2012 until 2014. Calhoun also took a medical leave of absence last season for temporary medical issues.

After a turbulent 2010 year, the team finished 18-16. But with Walker continuing his push for a top NBA draft selection, the Huskies may be peaking at the right time.

“I just want to win so bad,” Walker said in a televised interview after the game. “I’m extremely happy because we’re in a great situation. A lot of people in the beginning of the season didn’t think we’d make it this far and we’re just shocking the world.”

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO