Butler shoots itself in the foot

Ronald Nored, left, Shelvin Mack (1) and Butler shot just 18.8 percent against UConn. Bob Donnan/US Presswire

HOUSTON -- Shawn Vanzant hung his head exiting the locker room, still unable to believe what a mess of a shooting night it was for Butler in the national championship game.

“Twelve-for-64,” the senior kept muttering as his teammates tried to console him.

One kissed Vanzant on the head, another told him it wasn’t his fault even as he claimed it was, and the senior walked out of Reliant Stadium after a 53-41 loss to Connecticut with a teammate's arm draped over his shoulder.

The Butler Bulldogs made back-to-back runs to the Final Four together, and together America’s underdogs licked their wounds after falling short for a second straight year.

“All the people that played feel like they let us down, and that’s ridiculous,” coach Brad Stevens said. “If someone has to go 12-for-64, these guys have the character to handle it.”

It won’t be easy for Butler to leave Houston without regrets and to make peace with the absolute worst shooting performance in the history of national title games. Butler shot 18.8 percent from the field for the lowest mark in a championship game and the lowest in any NCAA tournament game since 1946. The Bulldogs managed only three -- yes, three -- 2-point field goals.

Shelvin Mack scored 13 points on 4-for-15 shooting, admittedly missing open shots. Shaggy-haired forward Matt Howard finished his storybook career with a 1-for-13 performance and a blood-stained right knee. Andrew Smith, the team’s 6-foot-11 center, scored the team’s first points in the paint on a putback with 6:13 left.

Vanzant, who went 2-for-10, was despondent over the 52 missed field goals. Many of them were easy shots, but Butler also credited a UConn defense that blocked 10 shots.

In the other locker room, freshman Jeremy Lamb leaned back in his chair and extended a long arm to demonstrate how his length might have bothered Mack. “If I’m off you, people think I can’t contest, but I can.”

The Huskies’ frontline was especially good, with 6-foot-9 Alex Oriakhi and 6-foot-8 Roscoe Smith blocking four shots apiece.

“UConn is the best shot-contest team we’ve played, and it’s not even close,” Stevens said. “They’re long. They’re athletic. They’re active. He [Huskies coach Jim Calhoun] had freshmen playing like seniors out there defensively.”

Stevens indicated that UConn disrupted them by using the Butler Way on defense: “Guard so hard so when they get looks, it’s not as comfortable.” The Bulldogs proceeded to go out with a clank.

After Chase Stigall hit a 3-pointer coming out of the halftime break to give the Bulldogs a 25-19 lead, they missed their next 13 shots over the next 6:46 while the Huskies went on a 14-1 run.

“Coach kept us calm until we realized it was going to be tough,” Andrew Smith said. “It felt like we weren’t supposed to win that game.”

Said Lamb: “I saw one time we scored, one of them put his head down. I said, ‘We got ‘em.’”

Butler (28-10) loses five seniors and possibly Mack to the NBA draft after once again capturing the nation’s imagination with an unlikely NCAA tournament run. The Bulldogs had reeled off 14 consecutive wins, including upsets of Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Florida, to get to the Final Four as a No 8 seed.

Not every fairy tale -- or even its sequel -- can have a happy ending. Stevens still found a way to give solace to his players, telling them his only regret was being unable to coach on Senior Day due to blurred vision.

“The title, the net, the net, the trophy would be nice, but you still have the relationships,” said Stevens, the 34-year-old bespectacled baby face.

“It’s really hard, but as I told ‘em, I don’t care if they make shots. I don’t love ‘em any less because we lost.”

Said Howard: “Right now, it’s frustrating. It’s tough, but I know you’ll look back at some point and be pretty proud. The team believed down the very end."

The Butler Bulldogs just simply missed.