The first half was hideous, but Butler recovered from a furious Bucknell run to win, 68-56. They advance to the Round of 32 thanks a great game inside from center Andrew Smith, who shut down Bucknell star Mike Muscala.
Neither side really did much of anything from the field early, with Butler's leading scorer Rotnei Clarke clanging aimlessly and Muscala unable to connect from close around the basket. A 19-2 run in the second half gave Bucknell a six-point lead at one point, but the No. 6-seeded Bulldogs didn't flinch.
Smith had 14 points, but more importantly he grabbed 16 boards and didn't give Muscala many clean looks, holding the Bison's senior center and potential NBA draft pick to just nine points on 17 shots. That left 6'7 forward Joe Willman to step up for the Bison to give them any chance, but his career-high 20 wouldn't get the job done. Clarke led Butler with 17, but for a while it seemed like he'd shoot the Bulldogs out of the game.
The Bulldogs did a good job of getting in Muscala's grill early on, with Smith making it relatively difficult for the Bison to get their star the ball and guards doubling on the touch, holding him to just one make in the first half on nine attempts -- and that one hit was an 18-footer.
With Muscala a non-factor, Bucknell struggled, missing seven shots in a row at one point. But the Bulldogs didn't create any separation, missing all eight threes in the first half. That led to an ugly 21-14 score at the half, Bucknell's lowest offensive output of the year. There were almost as many missed field goals (34) as points (35).
Let's summarize how the first half went, in .GIF form:
That's Clarke, who led Butler with 16.7 points per game, but shot just 1-for-7 in the first half.
After watching the first half of Bucknell-Butler I take it all back. Oof— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) March 21, 2013
When the second half started, though, something weird happened: both sides began connecting. Muscala got back-to-back buckets for the Bison, hitting a midrange jumper and turning and faking his way into an and-one, sparking a 19-2 run that gave them a six-point lead. (Yes, a 19-2 run after they scored just 14 points in the first half.) The star was Joe Willman, the bearded 6'7 senior who kept find himself open from midrange, hitting four jumpers and recording a pretty monster block on Smith in the stretch.
Butler bounced right back. After the team missed their first 14 threes, Smith and Clarke drilled from downtown on back-to-back possessions to take the lead back as part of an 8-0 run.
The Bulldogs would hold on from there. They'd score ten straight to go up 11 at one point, and won by 12.
They'll play the winner of the game between No. 3 Marquette and No. 14 Davidson, a game with decent upset potential.