The dream came to an end for No. 12 Middle Tennessee State on Saturday night, as the Blue Raiders fell to No. 4 Butler in the second round of Saturday night, 74-65.
After posting a statement win over No. 5 seed Minnesota in the first round of the dance, Kermit Davis’ club couldn’t quite get over the hump against Butler, who had an answer for every Middle Tennessee run.
Kelan Martin led the way for the Bulldogs, finishing with 19 points, six boards and four assists, while Andrew Chrabacsz chipped in 15 points, including the biggest shot of the game. Middle Tennessee answered Butler’s biggest lead of the game with a 9-0 run to get to within 59-56, but on the ensuing possession, Chrabacsz buried a three to push the lead back to six. Two possessions later hit knocked down two free throws, and on the possession after that, he was able to pass out of a trap to find Martin wide open under the rim.
Middle Tennessee never got within a single possession again.
That means that Butler will be in the Sweet 16 next weekend, playing the winner of tomorrow’s No. 1 North Carolina-No. 8 Arkansas game, and I’m not sure if anyone could have predicted that out of this Butler team back in October. The job that Chris Holtmann has done this season — hell, the job he’s done since he took over in October of 2014 for Brandon Miller — cannot be overstated. This team probably doesn’t have Sweet 16 talent. They probably don’t have top-half-of-the-Big East talent, but they not only finished the season in second in the conference, they swept Villanova and beat Arizona, Cincinnati and Indiana when Indiana was still good.
He’s done well enough with the Bulldogs that he’s either going to end up getting a bigger job — maybe Indiana? — or leverage that demand for a bigger contract, and neither of those things happen without a performance like this.
Back to Middle Tennessee, the run they were on was pretty incredible. Back-to-back second round appearances out of a single-bid conference is not an easy thing to do, and they did. That should be commended, even if we didn’t get to make a massive deal out of their trip to the Sweet 16.