Fantastic Finishes Electrify DC in Second, Third Rounds
Published: Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 18:03
While Georgetown was busy competing in its second-round NCAA game in Chicago late last week, eight other tournament teams participated in a total of six games at the Hoyas' usual stomping grounds. Playing host to the newly renamed second and third rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament for the first time since 2008, Verizon Center was the site of some of the most exciting action of the tourney's first weekend.
On Thursday No. 8 seed Butler and No. 9 seed Old Dominion of the Southeast region gave the tournament its first buzzer beater in only the second game of the afternoon. Having lost its previous NCAA game on a failed last-second shot attempt — a rim-rattling half-court heave by now-Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward in last year's championship game — the Bulldogs were more than happy to escape on the back of what can only be categorized as a lucky play.
With the score tied at 58 and 32 seconds remaining, Butler came out of a timeout and worked the clock down to assure itself the last shot of regulation. Senior guard Shawn Vanzant then drove to the hoop from the right side and lost his footing, throwing a wild shot up at the rim. Sophomore center Andrew Smith swatted the ball out of the air and off the backboard, and senior forward Matt Howard went up with his right hand and laid the ball in as time expired to give the Bulldogs a 60-58 victory.
Later on Thursday No. 1 seed Pittsburgh defeated No. 16 UNC-Asheville, 74-51, setting up a second-round matchup between the Panthers and Bulldogs. No. 3 seed Connecticut of the West region dominated No. 14 seed Bucknell, 81-52, and sixth-seeded Cincinnati of the same region beat 11th-seeded Missouri, 78-63, in the nightcap at Verizon Center.
But it wasn't until Saturday night that the District saw its most thrilling game.
In the third-round Pittsburgh-Butler clash, things went from strange to stranger to downright unbelievable in the closing moments. Up 70-69 with less than three seconds remaining, all the Bulldogs had to do to complete the upset was prevent a successful half-court shot by the Panthers. But as Pittsburgh redshirt senior forward Gilbert Brown dribbled toward the sideline near the scorer's table, Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack — the hero for the Bulldogs to that point with 30 points on 7-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc and 10-of-16 shooting overall — inexplicably fouled Brown.
The mistake sent Brown to the free-throw line for two shots. He made the first to tie the game at 70, but his second attempt rattled out and was rebounded by Butler's Howard. Then, inconceivably, Pittsburgh junior forward Nasir Robinson grabbed Howard's arm, fouling him with 0.8 seconds left. As fans, players and coaches alike either screamed, stood stunned or shook their heads, Howard knocked down his first free throw and missed the second intentionally to end the game, giving Butler a 71-70 win in the most shocking finish of the tournament.
Saturday at Verizon Center ended with a 69-58 victory for Connecticut over Cincinnati in an all-Big East third round affair. UConn junior guard Kemba Walker did not disappoint in perhaps his final collegiate game in Washington, D.C., scoring 33 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 14-of-14 shooting from the charity stripe.
With the conclusion of the Huskies' win, Verizon Center closed up shop for the college basketball season. But even without a Georgetown win on Senior Day against Syracuse last month, it found a way to do so on a high note.