INDIANAPOLIS -- Butler is going to the NCAA tournament final. Read that sentence again. Still, 10 minutes after Gordon Hayward walked off the Lucas Oil court with a big wave and an even bigger smile to the Butler fans, it still barely seems plausible. But it happened. And here's how:
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Butler's style prevailed. Again. The Bulldogs have had a simple formula for winning games in this NCAA tournament -- slow the game down, force teams to make shots over you, prevent penetration with help, get defensive rebounds, force turnovers, grind out a win. It worked against Syracuse. It worked against Kansas State. And it worked against Michigan State.
The Spartans kept turnovers at a minimum for much of the first half, but that didn't last in the second -- the Spartans committed 16 total turnovers -- and once Michigan State stopped hitting outside shots, the game began to fit the exact archetype Butler has thrived on all tournament long. From the 9:24 to the 3:46 marks in the second half, both teams combined for four points. Butler went more than 10 minutes without a field goal. Michigan State had their chances. Despite all that offensive impotence, the late opportunities were there. The Spartans just couldn't convert. And so they became the fifth team to score fewer than 60 points in an NCAA tournament game against Butler this year and the fifth team to fall by the wayside in Butler's magical run to the final game on Monday night. Amazing.
TURNING POINT: Butler looked shaky. The Bulldogs couldn't get anything to fall. Hayward had cooled off. And star guard Shelvin Mack was suffering from cramps in his hamstrings that kept him on the sideline throughout. It was 48-46, and the Spartans were coming; at this point, all that momentum, all that grind-it-out brilliance, looked ready to evaporate with a few unfortunate possessions.
And then Shawn Vanzant made a play. He drove baseline, found Gordon Hayward open on the corner baseline -- just the shot the Bulldogs needed -- and hit him. But Hayward's shot missed, causing a scrum under the hoop. Vanzant not only rebounded the ball, he managed to whip a perfect little pass to Hayward -- who had the presence of mind to leave his spot in the corner and cut furiously to the hoop -- which Hayward finished despite contact from MSU's Draymond Green. The basket gave Butler a four-point lead with 1:36 lead, a deficit Michigan State would never fully close again, eventually losing 52-50.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Gordon Hayward -- 19 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, two steals. You probably don't need me to explain this, but I will anyway. Not only did Hayward take and make the majority of his team's shots throughout a low-scoring slugfest, he made the key plays down the stretch -- the above layup, and a crucial block on Green with eight seconds remaining and his team up by two -- that sealed the win. Hayward's story, the three-star recruit who took his small in-state school to the biggest stage in college basketball, is already incredible. It added another worthy chapter tonight.
PLAYER OF THE GAME II: Durrell Summers -- 14 points, 10 rebounds, 6-of-12 shooting. Summers' suddenly clicking play was one of the main reasons Michigan State made this unlikely and thoroughly admirable run to the Final Four, and while Summers is no doubt disappointed with the result, at least he can take solace in the fact that this tournament helped rid him of the "inconsistent" label. He was good all the time.
STAT OF THE GAME: Several stats of the game, so let's just jumble them all together.
50 -- the number of points Michigan State scored, making it the fifth team in this tournament to fall short of the 60-point barrier against Butler.
16 -- Michigan State's turnovers, nine of which came in the second half.
6 -- the number of offensive rebounds Michigan State grabbed all game.
55.6 -- Michigan State's free-throw percentage.
30.6 -- Butler's field goal percentage, a testament to how this team wins. It's like they don't need to score. Whoa, man. Whoa.
INJURY BLUES: Mack missed much of Butler's victorious second half with cramps. In the postgame, Brad Stevens didn't know whether he would be able to play on Monday night or not. It goes without saying that Butler's chances of completing this fairy tale run are significantly diminished if Mack's cramps don't improve.
RAYMAR'S NO GOOD VERY BAD NIGHT: Raymar Morgan missed much of the first half with foul trouble. Then, when Tom Izzo was upset with his play early in the second half, he sat some more. Then, with 12:38 left, Morgan was called for his fourth foul -- yet another unnecessary bit of contact that happened approximately 80 feet from Michigan State's basket. Even worse, the foul was Michigan State's seventh, which put Butler into the bonus. Morgan's absence in this game left Michigan State without a good option for stopping Hayward, and it made the Spartans far less balanced on offense. This is the second straight year Morgan has disappeared in the biggest game of his team's season.