Take it to the Bank
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 11, 2010
NEW YORK – Da’Sean Butler’s bank-shot 3 from beyond the top of the key with 1.3 seconds left gave sixth-ranked West Virginia a 54-51 victory over Cincinnati Thursday night in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“He’s a winner,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins of Butler. “He’s going to have the ball at the end of games, he’s done it time and time again.”
It's the fifth time this year Butler has hit the winning shot for West Virginia. He also did it in wins against Cleveland State, Marquette, Louisville and Villanova.
The third-seeded Mountaineers were the only team with a double bye to advance in the Big East Tournament on Thursday. Top-seeded Syracuse was defeated by Georgetown, fourth-seeded Villanova lost to Marquette and second-seeded Pitt was downed by Notre Dame.
"I'm not a fan of the double bye, but I don't know that that had that much to do with it," said Huggins.
Cincinnati, playing its third game in as many days, was looking to pull off another late-game victory. On Tuesday night, the 11th-seeded Bearcats got free throws from Lance Stephenson to beat Rutgers and last night, Deonta Vaughn preserved the Bearcats’ 69-66 win over Louisville by stripping Edgar Sosa before he was able to get off a game-tying 3.
Tonight’s game featured a combination of great defense and some bad offense. Cincinnati missed its first 10 shots of the game and did not score its first field goal until 9:21 when Stephenson made a reverse layup.
West Virginia (25-6) which led by as many as 14 points, 18-4, with 10:57 left in the first half, couldn’t throw it in the ocean for the rest of the half, going scoreless for a five-minute stretch until Butler’s 3 from the top of the key ended the dry spell.
"We were just standing still a lot," said Butler. "When they went man we just didn't pass the ball. Instead of passing the ball and doing the things that got us the lead, we kind of strayed away from that and were making two passes and taking quick shots."
Cincinnati (18-15) made it a one-point game on Darnell Wilks’ fast-break dunk that was made possible by Joe Mazzulla’s missed 3 from the wing.
After Casey Mitchell's jumper made it 23-20, Cincinnati’s Larry Davis answered by drilling a 3 from the corner with 39 seconds to tie the game at 23.
West Virginia untied it just ahead of the halftime horn when Jonnie West hit a contested 3 from the top of the key.
Early in the second half West Virginia once again appeared to be taking control of the game, getting baskets from Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones and a 3 from Butler to take an eight-point lead at 36-28 with 13:09 to go.
Cincinnati cut it to two, 36-34, on a pair of Yancy Gates baskets and free throws by Stephenson.
But back to back baskets by Devin Ebanks and Jones got West Virginia’s lead back to nine, 47-38, with 5:42 to play. Then buckets by Gates and Stephenson and a 3 by Vaughn with 3:36 left pulled the Bearcats to within two, 47-45.
“When they started to come back it really didn’t rattle us,” said Butler. “We just tried to stay focused, listen to coach and a little luck helps.”
West Virginia helped Cincinnati’s run by missing a pair of 3s and then Kevin Jones missing one close. But the sophomore responded with two clutch baskets, the second with 1:09 left, to give West Virginia a 51-48 lead. Butler made a pretty assist on the play, fighting for a loose ball in the lane and then flipping it from his knees to a wide open Jones underneath the basket.
Stephenson tied it at 51 with a tough 3 from the wing with 47 seconds left.
Huggins called timeout with 30 seconds on the clock to design a game-winning play, but with the shot clock winding down, Ebanks’ drive and wild shot at the basket didn’t draw iron and Jones’ stick-back attempt was deflected out of bounds underneath West Virginia’s basket as the shot clock expired.
After a Bearcat timeout, Dion Dixon was called for traveling near West Virginia’s bench with three seconds left, allowing Butler enough time to bank in a 3 from well beyond the top of the key to win the game for the Mountaineers.
“I drew it up to get him a shot at the top of the key, not necessarily a bank shot,” said Huggins.
“I was really trying to get it inside the 3-point line, but (Stephenson) kind of over played and knocked me off balance so I only had time to get one dribble off,” said Butler. “I looked up, took my one-two step and just put it up there and it just fell. Thank God.”
Butler scored 15, two short of Jones’ team-high 17 for West Virginia. Ebanks added 10 points and six rebounds.
"I thought we would make more shots than we did, honestly," said Huggins.
Stephenson scored a game-high 19 for the Bearcats.
Cincinnati finished the game 17 of 52 from the field for 32.7 percent.
"They're a great defensive team because of their length and they way they denied everybody, they don't let you run an offense," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.
Among the celebrities in a star-studded crowd watching tonight's games were former President Bill Clinton, actor Denzel Washington and singer Nick Lachey.
West Virginia advances to the Big East Tournament semifinals for the fourth time in the last six years and has now won nine of its last 14 conference tournament games.
Notre Dame, which is 3-0 against the remaining teams in the Big East Tournament this year, is making its first semifinal appearance since Luke Harangody’s freshman year in 2007.
The Irish knocked off Pitt 50-45 earlier tonight to run its record to 23-10. Notre Dame has won six straight heading into Friday night’s semifinal to solidify its status in the NCAA Tournament.
West Virginia lost 70-68 to Notre Dame on Jan. 9 in South Bend when the Mountaineers nearly erased a 22-point first-half deficit. Last year, West Virginia knocked Notre Dame out of the Big East Tournament in the first round with a 74-62 victory.
The West Virginia-Notre Dame game will follow the first Big East semifinal featuring eighth-seeded Georgetown and fifth-seeded Marquette ast 7 p.m. Both games will be televised on ESPN.
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