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Sweet 16: Butler rallies to beat top-seeded Syracuse 63-59

Published: Friday, March 26 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Butler pep band plays as the Bulldogs take on Syracuse during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler rallied to defeat top-seeded Syracuse, 63-59. (August Miller, Deseret News) The Butler pep band plays as the Bulldogs take on Syracuse during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler rallied to defeat top-seeded Syracuse, 63-59. (August Miller, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Trailing by four with under four minutes left after leading for practically the whole game, it looked like Butler's dream of making its first-ever Elite Eight was history -- not to mention the possibility of getting back to the Final Four in the Bulldogs' hometown if Indianapolis.

Syracuse, the No. 1 seed in the West, was on a roll and the orange-clad fans on the east side of the EnergySolutions Arena were finally cheering up a storm.

Then suddenly, the Bulldogs came alive and ran off 11 straight points and just like that, they were celebrating a 63-59 victory and a Saturday date with Kansas State. Tip time is 2:30 p.m.

In advancing to the regional finals after three previous trips to the Sweet 16, the Bulldogs (31-4) used a physical defense, some timely, if not lucky, shots and plenty of poise in the final minutes to pull off the upset.

The Butler pep band plays as Syracuse takes on Butler during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler rallied to defeat top-seeded Syracuse, 63-59. (August Miller, Deseret News) The Butler pep band plays as Syracuse takes on Butler during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler rallied to defeat top-seeded Syracuse, 63-59. (August Miller, Deseret News)

You'd have thought Syracuse, the team from the vaunted Big East Conference with its No. 1 seed would have the edge in a close game. Instead it was the kids from Indiana, who were unflappable down the stretch, making big shots, while the flustered Orange kept turning the ball over.

"The poise of this group, the toughness of this group ... I was really proud of their moxie," said Butler's youthful coach Brad Stevens.

"We're poised. Our team's thing is to stay together through anything and I think we did that," said guard Ronald Nored.

The Bulldogs were led by sophomore forward Gordon Hayward with 17 points and guard Shelvin Mack with 14, but it was Nored and Willie Veasley who came up with the big shots down the stretch.

Butler fans Joey Gardeho, left, Ben Nicholas and Chad Lesczynski cheer on their team during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler beat Syracuse, 63-59.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Butler fans Joey Gardeho, left, Ben Nicholas and Chad Lesczynski cheer on their team during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler beat Syracuse, 63-59. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

After leading 35-25 at halftime, the Bulldogs watched the Orange catch fire and take their first lead of the game at 40-39 following a 7-0 run and then go up 54-50 on a layup by Kris Joseph, who started in place of injured starter Arinze Onuaku.

That's when Nored, who had made just 7 of 41 3-pointers all season, hit a three from the top of the key with 3:03 left to give the Bulldogs new life.

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

After a Syracuse miss, Hayward scored inside, and after another turnover by the 'Cuse, Veasley made the shot of the game from the left corner in front of his own bench.

The ball bounced off the back of the rim, but spun back high off the glass and into the net, making it 58-54 with 1:48 left.

Butler fans Joey Gardeho, left, Ben Nicholas and Chad Lesczynski cheer on their team during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler beat Syracuse, 63-59. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Butler fans Joey Gardeho, left, Ben Nicholas and Chad Lesczynski cheer on their team during the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City Thursday. Butler beat Syracuse, 63-59. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"I was already headed down the court, because I figured it was going to go over the top and I missed it," said Veasley with a big smile on his face. "I looked back and it came back down and went through."

After another Orange miss, Veasley was on the spot for a tip-in of a miss by Mack to make it 60-54 with 59 seconds left. From there, the Bulldogs put it away with foul shots as the Orange ran out of time.

For Syracuse, the difference was turnovers. Despite outshooting the Bulldogs 43 to 40 percent and outrebounding them by 10, they had 11 more turnovers (18-7).

"I'm really at a loss," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "We haven't done that. We made really bad decisions with the ball."

Syracuse (30-5) was led by all-American Wes Johnson with 17 points, Andy Rautins with 15 and Scoop Jardine with 14 off the bench.

Syracuse forward Wes Johnson mourns his team's loss to Butler in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday.  Butler upset the top-seeded and favored Orangemen, 63-59.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Syracuse forward Wes Johnson mourns his team's loss to Butler in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday. Butler upset the top-seeded and favored Orangemen, 63-59. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

West Regional Final

(5) Butler vs. (2) K-State

Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

EnergySolutions Arena

e-mail: sor@desnews.com

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