Howard, Butler beat ODU at their own game

Howard, Butler beat ODU at their own game
March 17, 2011, 9:30 pm
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NCAA tournament centralThursday, March 17, 2011, 5:26 p.m.By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comButler's throwback power forward, Matt Howard, no longer sports that thin, 1970s retro mustache he had during the Bulldogs' upstart run all the way to the NCAA final last season. Howard sent it packing, even though the crumb-catcher was in his mind a secret weapon.

"I know last year I did us a lot of favor by having that mustache," Howard said. "I'm serious. I think, to some degree, some teams had to look at that and just be like, 'There is no way that guy can play the game at all.'"

So why shave it off?"I just couldn't do that to my team, to myself again this year. ... A lot of people said they liked it, I know they just liked it to laugh at me. That has to be it."

Whether the upper-lip accoutrement evoked sneers from opponents, was a lucky charm or had Samson-like qualities, the Bulldogs' leading scorer and rebounder no longer needs it. Probably never did. Certainly not when it comes to sniffing out loose caroms and scoring buzzer-beating buckets for the win.

Howard gathered a wild tip off the offensive glass, and his putback as time expired lifted Butler (24-9) to a thrilling, bruising, 60-58 win over Old Dominion in the second round of the Southeast Regional at the Verizon Center on Thursday afternoon.

It was appropriate the final score came from point-blank range and was generated because of the eighth-seeded Bulldogs' work on the boards. The area around the basket was where this game was determined. Old Dominion, the No. 9 seed, entered the tournament tops nationally in rebounding margin, having lost the battle on the boards just once all season. Yet it was the feisty Bulldogs who prevailed on the glass, 32-29 overall and 18-13 on the offensive boards.

"I think if you go back statistically to the game, the offensive rebounds, they just had a number of times where they either chased it down, to their credit, or it bounced the right way," Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor said.

The "man's game" as described by Taylor featured 10 ties and 22 lead changes. Butler's 58-52 edge with 2:43 left matched the largest lead for either side. The Monarchs (27-7) rallied and tied the score at 58 on Kent Bazemore's two free throws with 32 seconds left.

After milking the clock to under 10 seconds, Bulldogs guard Shawn Vanzant -- who later said he misread the play -- headed down the right wing. As the clock ticked down, Vanzant heaved the ball up, but he didn't get maximum push as his legs went out from under him. Butler center Andrew Smith, 6 feet 11, reached tallest in the scrum and got a hand on the short shot, banging it off the boards. It landed on the other side of the lane into Howard's hands.

"I think a lot of credit has to go to Andrew. He made a great play keeping it alive," said Howard, who felt his defender go toward the initial attempt, thus leaving Howard with a clear path. "It's pretty easy when it's just you and the ball and the rim to throw it in."

Howard, who still has the shaggy hair that was great compliment tolastyear's mustache, said he didn't think there would be enough time to get the shot off. Taylor made sure the officials checked to see if Howard's in-gameperception wascorrect. Nope.That final quick-release shot may have been one of the easiest and least contested attempts for Howard,whose15 points matched Shelvin Mack for team-high honors, or anyone else in the game. It was also about the range for the Bulldogs offense, as it missed 19 of 26 attempts from beyond the arc.Smith had six rebounds, one more than Howard's total, against the long-limbed Monarchs. Reserve forward Garrett Butcher also snagged six, five on the offensive glass, in only 13 minutes. Butler needed all of them,but it was the 6-8 banger's hard work and intelligent play on both ends of the court that set the tone throughout.

"Matt's probably one of the most competitive people that I've ever met in my life," Bulldogs guard Ronald Nored said. "I think a lot of athletes just talk about what they want to do but don't back it up. Matt doesn't want to talk but he backs up everything that he thinks."Not only were the Bulldogs more than up to the challenge on the boards, but they also held theMonarchs to 22.7 percent shooting (5-for-27) from the field in the second half. Frank Hassell scored 20 points and was 7 for 13 from the field, buttheMonarchs' other starters were a combined 6 for 23 overall.

The Bulldogs advanced to Saturday's third round and will face top-seeded Pittsburgh, the nation's second-best rebounding team. If Butler's inspired approach to attacking the glass, one Nored says has been a staple of the program's for some time, continues, don't start taking that slipper off Cinderella's footquite yet. Even if she used to flaunt a silly, little mustache.