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2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Friday, March 21, 2008

Butler beats South Alabama to get tourney showdown with Tennessee



AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

South Alabama's Demetric Bennent, left, and Butler's Shawn Vanzant scramble for a loose ball during the second half of a first-round NCAA men's tournament East Regional basketball game in Birmingham, Ala., Friday, March 21, 2008. Butler won 81-61.

— Maybe it's time to start noticing Butler.

Discounted by the selection committee, the Bulldogs opened the NCAA tournament with yet another win, beating South Alabama 81-61 Friday in the first round of the East Regional.

Pete Campbell scored 26 points and hit eight 3-pointers, including a last-second shot at the halftime buzzer that sent Butler sprinting off the court and the Jaguars hanging their heads.

Butler played like the 11th-ranked team in the nation, not a small school just happy to be in the field. It was the fourth straight time the Bulldogs advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Bulldogs (30-3) set a school record with their 30th win, but more importantly answered the chorus of critics - including the NCAA tournament committee - who gave little credence to the Bulldogs' postseason street cred.

Butler was saddled with a No. 7 seed and was a popular first-round upset on many tournament brackets against the 10th-seeded Jaguars (26-7), who earned a much-criticized at-large bid they couldn't live up to.

The Bulldogs will now play seemingly vulnerable second-seeded Tennessee on Sunday, after the Volunteers slipped past American's upset bid with a 72-57 victory earlier in the day.

All anyone wanted to talk about before the game was the matchup of starting guards, and A.J. Graves of Butler and South Alabama's Daon Merritt didn't disappoint. Graves had 18 points and Merritt, who kept the Jaguars in the game early, scored 14 points.

But by the end of the first half, the Bulldogs' starting frontcourt had wrested the attention from the small guys and the game from the Jaguars (26-7), building a 47-30 lead.

Campbell, a 44 percent 3-point shooter, hit six 3s in the first half. Most came from well beyond the line after the 6-foot-7 senior had slipped his defender.

He and freshman Matt Howard, a 6-8 center who tirelessly set high screens and laid his body on any blue jersey within reach, accounted for every point in a 17-3 run that put the Bulldogs ahead 39-26 with 2:32 left in the first half.

Campbell had 11 points during the run, while Howard scored four and had an assist on the only other basket in the spurt. The Bulldogs were also disruptive in the paint, where the Jaguars found every shot contested by a team that allows 57.8 points per game, fifth in the nation.

It was clear the resurgent Jaguars were done by halftime, and coach Ronnie Arrow's distress was visible early in the second half as Butler beat South Alabama to loose balls and continued to hit 3s.

Butler hit 15 of 28 from beyond the arc, surpassing 50 percent from long range for the fourth time this season. The Bulldogs also got 16 points off 13 Jaguars turnovers and their bench finished with 42 points.


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