School(ed) Zone: Butler Solves Middle Tennessee D
Butler was in the zone Saturday night, and was so against one of the most vaunted zone defenses in the country.
On the power of six second-half three pointers, the Bulldogs advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 74-65 victory over No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee to advance to Memphis and the Sweet 16 in the South Region. Kelan Martin, who hit three three-pointers in the game, led the Bulldogs with 19 points.
Middle Tennessee was looking to pull off another upset after using its extended 1-3-1 half-court zone defense to befuddle Minnesota all game long during its win on Thursday afternoon. But like what happens with most underdogs who win a game in the NCAA Tournament, Middle Tennessee wasn’t able to catch Butler by surprise with its “13” defense, as Butler repeatedly passed over the top to create wide-open shots – almost all of which they converted.
“We’ve seen a good amount of [zone],” said senior forward Andrew Chrabascz, who scored 15 points, 13 of those in the second half. “We saw it against Marquette for a little while, Xavier runs it a little bit. But, I mean, we face a lot of athleticism this year as well, and [Middle Tennessee] has that…With the 1-3-1, there are going to be open opportunities, so we just have to make sure we find the open guys and keep the ball moving.”
During one sequence in the first half, Middle Tennessee, after making baskets, switched to the 1-3-1, only for Martin to spot up in the deep corner and hit three-pointers after excellent ball movement to get the Blue Raiders out of their zone defense just as quickly as they switched into it.
Despite Butler shooting 50 percent in the first half compared to 40 percent for the Blue Raiders, Middle Tennessee was able to close the first half on a 9-1 run to cut the Butler lead to five, 36-31, at the intermission. Middle Tennessee also made a run in the second half, cutting a 12-point lead down to five with two minutes remaining after a JaCorey Williams layup. After the layup, the Blue Raiders switched into the zone, only for Chrabascz to fire a 35-foot pass to a wide-open Martin underneath the basket for a layup. Butler cruised from there to advance to the Sweet 16 next Thursday.
“You know, I think that more than anything, we’re relying on our principles,” said Butler head coach Chris Holtmann on adjusting to the different defenses it saw tonight. “We want to be simple in our approach and let our guys kind of play with free minds. It’s a quick prep for a really complicated defensive team. So, for us, let’s make sure our guys play with some freedom.”
Middle Tennessee ends the season at 31-5, the most wins in a single season in school history and may end up finishing ranked in the national polls to end the season.
If there was any team that knew what the Purdue Boilermakers were about to go through tonight as they were letting a commanding lead slip away and facing a painful loss in the NCAA Tournament, it was the Purdue Boilermakers. Two seasons running had seen two first round NCAA Tournament losses in overtime, both in the most excruciating fashion.
Yet experiencing all of that pain in the Big Dance helped Purdue experience unadulterated pleasure tonight, and they are now on its way to the Sweet 16.
P.J. Thompson’s five points in the game proved that timing is everything, as it came in the final two minutes as the Boilermakers overcame blowing a 19-point second half lead to defeat the Iowa State Cyclones 80-76 in a second round game in Milwaukee.
In 2015, it was Cincinnati’s Troy Caupain hitting a layup at the regulation buzzer to force overtime in a game the Bearcats would win in the first round in the extra session. Last season, it was Arkansas-Little Rock and Josh Hagins who drained a three-pointer with five seconds remaining to force overtime on the way to the Boilermakers losing the game in double overtime in Denver. A loss today, even with a first-round win under its belt this year, probably would have topped them all before the heroics of Thompson and big man Caleb Swanigan, who had 20 points, 12 rebounds and a key offensive rebound late in the contest.
“I think we’ve learned a lot,” said Purdue head coach Matt Painter, when asked about how those previous losses in the NCAA Tournament has helped the team. “You just try to learn from your experiences. I think it sits with when it’s always — you know, lots of times you don’t really sit on things too much with the things that people remind you of.”
Thompson, a native of Indianapolis, is somewhat of the overlooked player on the team when compared to Swanigan, slasher Vincent Edwards and the strong perimeter shooting of multiple guards on the roster. What won’t be forgotten in this game is the three-pointer he hit with 2:59 left in regulation to give Purdue the lead back at 74-73 after Iowa State hit two free throws on the previous possession to take its first – and only – lead in the second half. Later, with the Boilermakers up two with 11 seconds remaining, Swanigan grabbed an offensive rebound after a Dakota Mathias missed free throw on a 1-and-1 and Thompson, who was eventually fouled, made both free throws to provide the final points of the contest.
Swanigan neared a triple double with 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, while Edwards led all Boilermaker scorers with 21.
I’ve never been past the first round [before]” said Edwards, who also scored 19 points in the Boilermakers’ first round victory over Vermont. “To be here and to be going into a sweet 16, I can’t even describe the words that I’m feeling right now. It’s crazy.”
For the Cyclones, four senior starters ended their careers, including three key contributors on the roster who all hail from Milwaukee. One of them, Deonte Burton, led all scorers with 25 points, 17 of those in the second half.
“We were playing for our lives,” said Burton. “It was a win-or-go-home game. I didn’t want to go home. I tried to put everything I could into the game tonight.”
The Boilermakers, now making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2010, will take on the winner of tomorrow’s Kansas-Michigan State winner in Kansas City next Thursday.