INDIANAPOLIS – Butler center Manny Bates set the decisive screen, then watched Eric Hunter Jr. drive for the winning shot Friday night.
He figured the call on the floor would stand – and so did Bulldogs coach Thad Matta.
On a night Jayden Taylor scored 20 points and Bates added 19, it was Bates’ pick near midcourt and the ensuing goaltending call on Hunter’s dunk attempt with 2.5 seconds left that finally closed out Butler’s 69-67 win over No. 13 Xavier and sent students streaming onto the Hinkle Fieldhouse floor.
“There was no doubt in my mind it would stand,” Bates said, describing the wait for the replay review. “I just got the screen and wanted to see Eric go finish.”
The hometown fans have spent most of this season waiting to see Butler deliver a knockout punch, and the players seemed to feed off the sellout crowd at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs (13-13, 5-10 Big East) quickly built a double-digit lead, maintained their poise late and never trailed while holding the nation’s sixth-highest scoring team nearly 17 points below its average.
Colby Jones led Xavier with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Nunge added 14 points and eight rebounds. But the Musketeers (19-6, 11-3) are now tied with No. 10 Marquette atop the conference standings.
But it was the final wacky 30 seconds that created a rollercoaster of emotions for everyone.
Butler appeared to seal its second straight two-point win this week when sixth-year senior Jack Nunge grabbed a loose ball with 23.4 seconds left and called a timeout Xavier didn’t have. Taylor sank both free throws on the technical foul call, but the Bulldogs’ empty ensuing possession led to a 3-pointer from Nunge with 15 seconds left that made it 66-65.
Taylor answered by making 1 of 2 free throws then mistakenly fouled Souley Boum near midcourt with 9.1 seconds to go. Boum made both free throws to tie the score at 67.
That set up Bates to free Hunter, who darted to the open basket as two Xavier defenders converged and knocked the ball away from the basket. While the officials huddled, Xavier coach Sean Miller was befuddled.
“What I don’t understand is how, with 9.1 seconds left, we weren’t ready defensively,” Miller said. “All five of our defenders were at half court. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
When the officials finally made the call, Hinkle Fieldhouse roared with approval as it awaited the review.
“Somebody, I think one of our assistants, said they couldn’t overturn the goaltend so I was confident it would hold up,” Butler coach Thad Matta said.
Xavier still had one more shot, though, and when Boum’s long heave bounced off the back of the rim, students mobbed Butler’s players and celebrated their first win over a ranked team in six tries this season.
Xavier: Miller explained afterward that he believed Nunge’s timeout call was just a reaction in the heat of the moment. He was far more critical of his team’s effort, which he said “was not very good.” He knows that must change if the Musketeers intend to win the league title.
Butler: This will go down as one of the Butler’s best games all season. Whether this two-game winning streak leads to bigger things, though, is still to be determined. Butler needs to build off this week’s momentum to finish this season with a flourish.
The loss should send Xavier sliding down the rankings. How far they slip will depend on the remaining results from this weekend.
Xavier came into the game without its top rebounder and second-leading scorer, Zach Freemantle, who has a left foot injury. And in the first half, they lost Boum, their top scorer briefly with what appeared to be an injured left ankle. Boum finished with 12 points and three assists, but limped noticeably the rest of the game. Miller did not update Boum’s status following the game.
UP NEXT Xavier: Visits Marquette on Wednesday in a matchup of the Big East’s top teams.
Butler: Heads to Villanova on Tuesday.