Elite Eight – Butler vs Kansas State
The Butler Bulldogs could be bound for the Final Four for the first time in school history - but first they have to get past the Kansas State Wildcats in the Elite Eight.
The Bulldogs continued what has been a terrible tournament for most bracket-pickers on Thursday with their upset win over No. 1 seed Syracuse. Butler was a 6-point underdog at Bovada, but used some timely shooting and solid defense to knock off the Orange 63-59. That extended the Bulldogs’ nation-best winning streak to 23 games.
Butler looked to have the game well in hand at halftime with a 10-point lead, but the Orange started to find their game again after the break and with 5:23 remaining held a four-point lead. That was as close as the Orange would get to victory. After giving up their huge lead the Bulldogs took back all the momentum and scored 11 straight points to reclaim the advantage and never look back.
Gordon Hayward led Butler with 17 points and five rebounds, while Shelvin Mack added 14 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Willie Veasley also delivered a solid performance with 13 points and a stout defensive effort against Syracuse star forward Wes Johnson. Johnson netted only 17 points against Butler, much lower than the 31 points he dumped on Gonzaga in the second round. Overall the Bulldogs’ man-to-man defense frustrated the Orange all night and forced them to commit 18 turnovers.
Kansas State earned their spot in the Elite Eight after a long back-and-forth battle with Xavier in the Sweet 16. It took two overtimes for the Wildcats to finally put the Musketeers away in a 101-96 win as 5-point favorites.
Xavier continually matched the Wildcats with miraculous shots until Jacob Pullen finally put the game out of reach with a pair of clutch three-pointers late in the second overtime. Pullen finished the game with 28 points and shot an impressive 6-of-12 from behind the arc.
To get past a tough Xavier squad the Wildcats needed more than just Pullen. When Pullen started missing a few shots and got into foul trouble Denis Clemente stepped up to keep the Wildcats in the game. Clemente scored 25 points in the win, with 21 of those points coming in the second half. Curtis Kelly also had a big game in the win with 21 points and eight rebounds. Not only are the Wildcats the higher seed in Saturday’s matchup, they’re also the oddsmakers’ pick as a 4.5-point favorite.
Butler has already made history by advancing to the Elite Eight. Their three previous trips to the Sweet 16, in 1962, 2003, and 2007, all ended in defeat. It’s been a long wait for Wildcats fans. The Wildcats haven’t been in the Elite Eight since 1988. They lost to Kansas that season, and haven’t been in the Final Four since 1964.
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