NCAA Second Round Recap - Butler vs Murray State

(5) Butler 54, (13) Murray State 52

Gordon Hayward posted very pedestrian statistics on Saturday afternoon in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

His performance was anything but pedestrian.

Butler University - located in the heart of Indianapolis - is now two wins away from creating a second straight hometown Final Four. One year after Michigan State's Detroit-rich roster reached the Final Four in the Motor City, the boys from Butler could experience a Hoosier homecoming at college basketball's biggest weekend bash in early April. It's all because of a man named Hayward, who caused some fine-functioning Racers from Murray State to go haywire in the waning moments of this white-knuckler at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.

If you looked only at numbers - which can often tell lies and are therefore not a regular feature of these game recaps you read here at Dash Fans Network - Hayward didn't do all that much against the men of Murray and coach Billy Kennedy. Hayward scored 12 points - a very modest total - and pulled down seven rebounds. Nothing worthy of a "stop-the-presses" exclamation, to be sure. One of the superstars of the Horizon League hit only 4 of 13 field goals and converted only 1 of 4 3-pointers and 3 of 6 foul shots. Had Murray State pulled out this two-point nail-biter, Hayward's three misses from the foul line would have loomed large.

So exactly why is it that we're talking about Mr. Hayward as the hero of Butler's great escape against an upset-minded 13 seed from the state of Kentucky?

It's because he made the kinds of plays that aren't easily represented by numbers.

Down the stretch in this tense, taut thriller, Hayward made the kinds of glue-guy plays that a box score can never hope to contain or reflect. When Butler made a 9-0 run to take a 46-38 lead with six minutes left, Hayward was the man who enabled Coach Brad Stevens's squad to forge a temporary advantage. By warring on the glass, contesting Murray State shots, and filling passing lanes, Hayward - in the absence of foul-plagued teammate Matt Howard - successfully occupied the middle and blunted the Racers' offense for extended periods. Yes, the relentless Racers ripped off a stunningly quick 12-1 run - out of nowhere, given the success of Butler's defense - to take a 50-47 lead with 2:47 left, but in the final few minutes of this marvelous battle, it was Hayward who would once again put his signature stamp on the proceedings.

It was Hayward who willed himself to the basket and made Murray's defense react. It was Hayward who enabled his team's halfcourt sets to acquire form and functionality. It was Hayward who fed teammate Ronald Nored for a bucket that gave Butler a 52-50 lead with 24 seconds left. And, last but certainly not least, it was Hayward who almost singlehandedly thwarted Murray's last possession, when the Racers - down 54-52 - had a chance to win with a three.

MSU's Isaiah Canaan took hold of the ball on the left wing, 25 to 30 feet from the basket. Butler made a strong double-team to keep Canaan away from the basket, and when Canaan tried to work away from the sideline to the middle of the court, his pass - released with roughly five seconds left on the clock - was tipped by Hayward into the Murray State backcourt. Hayward didn't just admire his deflection, however; he rolled on the floor near the 3-point arc and chased the loose ball so that no one on the Racers could gather the rock. The clock expired before any blue-shirted opponent could regain possession, and the Bulldogs of Butler had punched their Sweet 16 ticket.

Gordon Hayward showed on Saturday that you don't have to score points to dominate a game. Thanks to its glue-guy defender and do-everything handyman, Butler is now two wins from creating another home-cooked Final Four.



By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer



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