THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LEXINGTON, Ky. —
The cast of characters has changed.
Butler’s character has not.
Rotnei Clarke scored 11 of his 17 points in the last 8:44, Andrew Smith had a double-double with a career-high 16 rebounds and 14 points and Butler withstood a late rally from upset-minded Bucknell for a 68-56 victory in the NCAA tournament on Thursday. Roosevelt Jones added 14 points for the sixth-seeded Bulldogs, who watched an 11-point lead turn into a 6-point deficit before regaining control of the game for good.
Butler has now won 11 of its last 13 games in the NCAA tournament, the only two losses coming in the 2010 and 2011 title games.
“The similarity is they’re Butler,” coach Brad Stevens said. “They have some mettle. They have some intestinal fortitude built up over time. The difference is just the people. We have to play a little bit differently on both sides of the floor.
“But it truly is a Butler team, which I feel good about.”
Joe Willman had a career-high 20 points for Bucknell. But the 11th-seeded Bison couldn’t overcome an off day from two-time Patriot League Player of the year Mike Muscala, who had nine points, only the second time this season he’s failed to reach double figures. Going almost five minutes without scoring late in the second half didn’t help, either.
Neither did Butler’s considerable edge at the foul line. The Bulldogs made 25 of 28 free throws — 18 of 20 in the final 4:43 alone — while Bucknell went to the line just eight times.
“I just think they’ve played in so many big games, they’re not the type of team that’s going to get rattled,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said.
Butler (27-8), headed to the Big East next season after one in the Atlantic 10, will now face the winner of Davidson-Marquette on Saturday in the East Region.
The Bulldogs’ runs to the 2010 and 2011 title games gave hope to little guys everywhere — they nearly knocked off Duke in 2010, with Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave clanking off the rim — and Bucknell hoped to pull off an upset of its own Thursday. The Bison had it in their DNA, having knocked off third-seeded Kansas in 2005, one of the tournament’s classic upsets.
And for a while, it looked as if Bucknell might just beat Butler at its own game.
Butler survived the first-half defensive slog in better shape, largely because it took Muscala out of his rhythm. After his smooth jumper from the top of the key in the opening seconds, he went scoreless the rest of the half, with Smith and Jones swarming him any time he got within a thought of the paint.
Michigan State 65, Valparaiso 54
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Derrick Nix got a pass down low, backed up his beefy body to put an opponent on his back and scored.
For much of Michigan State’s NCAA tournament-opening win, it was as easy as giving Nix the ball and getting out of his way.
Nix had 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds to help power the third-seeded Spartans past 14th-seeded Valparaiso 65-54 on Thursday with an inspired effort by their only senior.
“It’s my last go-around,” he said. “And, I’m not ready to be done yet.”
The Spartans went on a 26-5 run in the first half to take control, and cruised to an easy victory much to the delight of a crowd filled with green-clad fans at the home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.
Their hard-driving coach, though, wasn’t totally satisfied because he said a “sluggish” start was followed up by a “disgusting,” finish.
“I was pleased with about 33, 34 minutes of that game,” Tom Izzo said.
Michigan State (26-8) will play the winner of the Memphis-Saint Mary’s game on Saturday when the Spartans will be shooting for a spot in the round of 16 for the fifth time in six years.
The Crusaders (26-8) were no match for Michigan State in their first NCAA tourney in nine years, just as they weren’t as a first-round loser in 2000 to the eventual champion Spartans.
Valpo had enough size to match up, but didn’t have enough strength.
“We were a little overpowering inside,” Izzo said.
The Crusaders didn’t seem worried about the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Nix when asked about him the day before the game.
Valpo’s 6-8, 240-pound forward Kevin Van Wijk nonchalantly said he and his teammates faced similar players in the Horizon League.
If that’s true, it didn’t seem to prepare Van Wijk and his fellow post players for Nix’s brute force, relatively nimble feet and soft hands.
“He had some ups and downs during the season, but he really bounced back,” Van Wijk said.
Nix had nine points in the first half and when he made his fourth shot to put Michigan State ahead 32-12, he had as many field goals as the Crusaders’ entire team.