26-5, 15-3 Conf

Cleveland St. returns to NCAA tournament for first time in 23 years

INDIANAPOLIS -- Cleveland State is heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 23 years and coach Gary Waters is finally getting a new ring.

Cedric Jackson scored 19 points and the Vikings used a flurry of 3-pointers to beat Butler (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP) 57-54 Tuesday night, winning the Horizon League tourney championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA tourney.

"Everytime I've been to the NCAA tournament, I get a ring," said Waters, who also took Kent State to the NCAAs in 2001.

"See this ring?" he said, pushing his fist in the air in celebration. "I've had this ring too long. This is my Kent ring. Now I'm going to get a Cleveland State ring, and I've been dying to do that."

It's the first conference tourney title in Waters' three seasons at Cleveland State and its first berth in the NCAA since 1986. That year, as a No. 14 seed the Vikings knocked off Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers and made the regional semifinals.

"It feels so good. I've waited four years, five years, it's so amazing, just to get this championship," said Jackson, who was voted tourney most valuable player. "It means the world to me. This team has stuck together day in and day out."

Six of Cleveland State's first seven field goals in the second half were 3-pointers, helping the Vikings (25-10) erase an 8-point lead by the Bulldogs (26-5).

"It really wasn't the game plan. It was about being aggressive and knowing when to step up and make plays," Jackson said. "We started out slow and Butler was sagging off me, so I had to step up and just count on that shot to go in. I took a few bad shots, but my teammates helped me out on the defensive end, and that was the most important part."

Butler's last lead was 48-47 midway through the period, then Jackson hit a 3-pointer and a floater in the lane to put the Vikings in front for good. Butler had two chances to tie in the closing seconds, but Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward missed 3-pointers.

"I was trying to get the best shot possible," said Mack, a freshman who led Butler with 18 points and a career-high nine rebounds.

Cleveland State lost to Butler in the Horizon championship game last year and twice again to the Bulldogs this regular season. Butler, ranked in the Top 25 most of the season, is expected to receive an at-large NCAA tourney bid Sunday.

"You've got to do a lot of little things to win a tournament championship, and obviously when you win your league in the regular season there's a lot to be proud of," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "Our guys really wanted to win this game, they played as hard as they could. They played great.

"I'm looking at the stats -- Cleveland State goes 10-of-19 from 3. Cedric Jackson was unbelievable, and he's been unbelievable the entire tournament."

The Bulldogs led most of the first half, although a late rally helped Cleveland State close within 32-28 at halftime.

Butler regained an 8-point lead at 39-31 on a dunk by Matt Howard, but a 3-pointer by J'Nathan Bullock started the Vikings' comeback.

They pulled within 42-40 on consecutive 3-pointers by Jeremy Montgomery and tied the game at 42 on a basket by Bullock. There was one more tie and one more Butler lead before the 3-pointer by Jackson put the Vikings on top for good.

Cleveland State's biggest lead was at 56-50 on the final basket by Jackson.

Montgomery finished with 11 points and Bullock added 10 for the Vikings. Howard, the league's MVP for the season, added 14 for the Bulldogs.