NCAA Final Four: Servants vs. the royalty

INDIANAPOLIS -- How's this for toughness, Michigan State banging, Butler starting guard Shelvin Mack out, starting forward Matt Howard out, offense in the deep freeze, Final Four pressure mounting and still, still, the Bulldogs wouldn't cave.

INDIANAPOLIS -- How's this for toughness, Michigan State banging, Butler starting guard Shelvin Mack out, starting forward Matt Howard out, offense in the deep freeze, Final Four pressure mounting and still, still, the Bulldogs wouldn't cave.

"Sometimes you just have to grind it out," forward Avery Jukes said.

How's this for Saturday night drama, the Spartans aiming for yet another nail-biter NCAA tourney win, the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd of 71,298 roaring and Butler pressures forward Draymond Green's potential winning jumper so that it comes off as dangerous as a baby's kiss.

"That's what we do," guard Willie Veasley said. "We get stops when we need them."

So Butler (33-4) got the 52-50 national semifinal victory and Monday night's title game shot against Duke (34-5).


"We didn't come here to be one and done," guard Zach Hahn said. "We wanted to push our way through and get to Monday."

Michigan State (28-9) got a long trip back to East Lansing.

"Butler played as hard as anybody we've played," coach Tom Izzo said. "They earned the right to win, but we had our chances."

Butler will take a 25-game winning streak into Monday night. It's the longest streak entering the national championship game since Duke reached the 1999 title contest against Connecticut with a 32-game winning streak.

Duke lost, and the Bulldogs don't care.

"We've got one more game," Jukes said, "and then our dream will come true."

Izzo coached in spurts of exasperation ("Get the ball inside!" he shouted; where's the foul? he asked), as if he'd ordered a Ferrari and gotten a Focus. Foul trouble forced walk-ons Austin Thornton and Mike Kebler into significant minutes.

"We played some of the most bizarre lineups of the year," Izzo said, "but these guys did an incredible job of hanging in there."


He pleaded for execution and awareness, but in the end the Bulldogs delivered more.

"I'm pleased for Butler," Izzo said. "It's a great story, but I'm proud of my guys. And I'm a little bit ticked off."

Butler's Brad Stevens coached in measured calm, a minimalist conductor for a team in synch with its all-for-one game plan -- except for scoring. It shot just 24.0 percent in the second half, 30.6 percent for the game.

"Sometimes the shots don't fall," Veasley said, "but we still play defense."

The Bulldogs had 12 steals and forced 16 turnovers. They got 19 points and nine rebounds from forward Gordon Hayward and 14 points from Mack, who was limited to 25 minutes because of cramps. Howard played just 14 minutes from a combination of foul trouble and a head injury. Both players availability for Monday night is uncertain.

"If they can't go," Stevens said, "somebody else will have to step in and play well."

The Bulldogs' keys were simple -- rebound, stop Michigan State's transition, defend till it hurt.

The Spartans wanted to make it hurt. They sought to exploit their athleticism, length and Final Four experience (six in the last 12 years to Butler's debut).


So it was a matter of imposing will, and Michigan State imposed first -- grabbing the first two rebounds and hitting the first two shots, a pair of Korie Lucious three-pointers. Butler struck back with two Hayward three-pointers and a Mack free throw. The Spartans' responding 8-0 run created separation that lasted until Mack's late three-pointer off a steal produced a 28-28 halftime tie.

Butler broke out the scoring diversity to open the second half. Veasley had two free throws. Howard scored inside. Guard Ronald Nored made free throws. Hayward and Mack scored. The Bulldogs built a seven-point lead by drawing fouls, making free throws and defending (six steals in the first nine minutes).

With Spartan foul trouble mounting (four players had at least three fouls in the final 10 minutes), Butler attacked the rim so that Michigan State forward Draymond Green yelled at his teammates to help on defense, and they did. Points came grudgingly. Butler scored three points in a nine-minute span. Michigan State scored four in eight minutes.

Hayward muscled in a basket -- Butler's first in 11 minutes -- to give the Bulldogs a 50-46 lead with 90 seconds left. Michigan State's Durrell Summers made one free throw and Green made two to make it a one point game. When Nored's inside shot rattled out with 28 seconds left, the Spartans would have the last shot down 50-49.

Green missed his contested jumper. Nored got the ball, drew the foul on Green (his fifth) with 6.1 seconds left and made both free throws. Butler guard Shawn Vanzant fouled Lucious with 2.0 seconds to prevent a three-point shot. Lucious made the first free throw, deliberately missed the second, but Hayward got the rebound to clinch a spot in the title game.

"Words can't express what it feels like to be in the national championship game," Veasley said, "when nobody gave us a chance."

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