SALT LAKE CITY — Turnovers, especially Orange-flavored ones, were served up in large quantities at EnergySolutions Arena in Thursday's first NCAA Tournament game.
Usually steady Syracuse, which didn't earn a No. 1 seed for its generosity, had an uncharacteristic shoddy showing. The Orange lost and tossed the ball away 18 times compared to just seven Butler giveaways.
The Bulldogs were more clutch in crunch time, no doubt. But Syracuse's sloppiness — caused by a feisty packed-in Butler defense and careless execution — was the difference in the No. 5 seed's upset 63-59 victory.
Butler finished with 13 steals. The Bulldogs also forced Syracuse into more turnovers than the favorite had made in a month and three over its average (15.1). The Orange struggled from the get-go, turning the ball over on four consecutive possessions before scoring.
"The game was a story of turnovers," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They didn't make turnovers. They were really good with the ball. We made 18 turnovers. You can't give away that many possessions."
Butler won't complain about Syracuse's charity. It helped the Bulldogs, who grabbed a 10-point halftime lead after a dozen first-half Orange turnovers, earn their first trip to the Elite Eight.
Defensively, the Bulldogs wanted to be the aggressors.
"I think we were just trying to be physical," said Butler guard Ronald Nored, who had five steals.
Coach Brad Stevens credited his players for being "pretty active." As a result, seven Syracuse players committed turnovers and six bumbled the ball away twice or more.
Offensively, the Bulldogs took care of the ball as they've been doing all tournament long. Through three games, Butler only has 23 turnovers.
"Our guys," Stevens said, "have valued possessions nicely. ... That's probably the main reason why we're still sitting here."
A LITTLE LUCKY? They didn't shoot particularly well, but the Bulldogs got a couple of fortuitous bounces in the closing moments.
Lucky Bounce No. 1:
Willie Veasley's 3-point attempt with 1:48 touched every last inch of the inside part of the rim before it bounced out. He headed down the court, thinking the basketball was going to fly over the backboard. Instead, the ball dropped back down through the net to give Butler a 58-54 lead.
"I looked back, it came back down and went through," Veasley recalled. "Just pure excitement. Just relief that we found that shot. ... That's a HORSE shot. I never made anything like that."
Lucky Bounce No. 2:
After Shelvin Mack missed a jumper, Veasley soared in to get his hand on the ball with just under a minute remaining. The rim gods again favored the senior swingman as his tip-in rattled around before settling into the basket.
With back-to-back bounces, the Bulldogs had to believe things might be meant to be, didn't they?
"I don't think I was thinking 'team of destiny,'" Stevens said. "I was thinking back to what I was told when I was little, eventually the law of averages will kick in. We missed so many shots."Comment on this story
Butler ended up missing 31 of 52 attempts for a .404 shooting percentage.
NO EXCUSES: Boeheim wasn't about to pull out the what-if-we'd-had-Arinze-Onuaku card. The usual starting center hasn't played since tweaking his right quad in the Big East quarterfinal loss to Georgetown.
"We haven't had him," Boeheim said. "There's nothing I'm going to say about that. We don't make excuses."