Mens' NCAA Sweet 16: Late rally stuns Syracuse, lifts Butler into its first Elite Eight.
Late rally stuns Syracuse, lifts Butler into first Elite Eight.
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Little Butler University was on its way out of the NCAA Tournament, headed back home to Indianapolis to watch next week's Final Four.

Everybody inside EnergySolutions Arena could see big, bad Syracuse had finally worn down the fierce Bulldogs on Thursday night and was on its way to the West Regional finals.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Butler rallied to win, 63-59, simply because its gritty group with a collective heart the size of the Wasatch Mountains refused to leave the party.

Ronald Nored didn't want to go; he buried a stay-alive three-pointer with 3:14 remaining. Matt Howard didn't want to go; he barreled inside to put the Bulldogs ahead.

Willie Veasley didn't want to go; he rattled in a three-pointer and followed by tipping in a rebound.

Almost before Syracuse knew what had happened, Butler had rallied from a 54-50 deficit, won its 23rd straight game and moved into the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

According to coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs have talked all season about exhibiting this kind of resolve.

"... And those guys have resolve," Stevens said. "It's hard to measure, but they've got it."

Syracuse converted only three of its final 11 possessions after taking its four-point lead.

During Butler's comeback, the Orange committed three of their 18 turnovers.

"The game was a story of turnovers," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "... You can't give away that many possessions."

Credit Butler's defense.

Syracuse's 59 points matched its season-low, and top scorers Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins had a hard time finding space to operate.

They combined for 32 points but squeezed off only 19 shots. The Bulldogs just didn't give them room.

"We were just trying to be physical," said Nored, the Horizon League's co-defensive player of the year.

"... I think it was a testament to our defense that we got the win."

Shockingly, Butler dominated the first half against Syracuse, which had beaten Vermont and Gonzaga by a total of 55 points in its opening two games of the tournament.

The Bulldogs jumped to a 12-1 lead, thanks in part to Orange 12 turnovers and 38 percent shooting.

It took Syracuse over seven minutes to score its first basket and, despite playing without star Gordon Hayward for the final 9:13 because of foul trouble, Butler owned a 35-25 lead at halftime.

"They played extremely well in the first half," Boeheim said.

Syracuse opened the second half on a 15-4 run, capped by Johnson's three-pointer that gave the Orange their first lead, 40-39.

After Hayward rallied Butler with nine straight points, Syracuse again looked ready to take control. A 7-0 run made it 54-50 with 5:23 remaining, although the Orange's biggest misstep came on its next two possessions.

Instead of extending its lead, Scoop Jardine missed a quick three-pointer. Then Veasley stole an inbounds pass, setting up Butler's decisive 11-0 run.

Nored got the Bulldogs re-ignited with a long three-pointer after he took an inbounds pass and beat the shot clock.

"... I wasn't going to pass it," he said. "I was going to step in and knock it in."

Said Boeheim: "They had a 16 percent shooter make a three. That happens sometimes."

Howard followed with his basket before Veasley's three-pointer from the corner popped out and dropped back in rattled to make it 58-54 with 1:48 remaining.

With 59 seconds remaining, Veasley's tip-in gave the Bulldogs a 60-54 lead, and they made just enough of their free thows down the stretch to hold off the Orange.

"Everybody is excited, relieved ... that we got to show everybody just how good we are," said Veasley.

luhm@sltrib.com

Storylines

IN SHORT » Butler is going to the Elite Eight for the first time after upsetting No. 1 seed Syracuse.

KEY STAT » Syracuse commits 18 turnovers, including three late to fuel Butler's rally in the final three minutes.

KEY MOMENT » Matt Howard steals an inbounds pass and Ronald Nored hits a three to ignite an 11-0 for for Butler in the final three minutes to take control of the game.