Wed. Final: UWM 63, Butler 60
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Although the game clock might have malfunctioned in the closing seconds, Butler coach Brad Stevens insists the season isn't over for his freshman-laden team.
Avery Smith had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Wisconsin-Milwaukee beat the 21st-ranked Bulldogs 63-60 on Wednesday night, getting its first regular-season win against a ranked team.
"No wall," Stevens said when asked if his three freshman starters may be wearing out in the stretch run after consecutive losses for the program for the first time in more than three years.
Freshman Gordon Hayward agreed just before he boarded the bus.
"We got out-toughed the whole game," said Hayward, who had four points, nearly 10 points below his average. "We didn't really deserve to win. We played hard out there, but we weren't playing the right way."
Butler (22-4, 13-3 Horizon League) beat Milwaukee by 30 points on Jan. 24 in Indianapolis, but has lost two in a row after a span of 111 games between consecutive losses.
This one finished with controversy.
With 5.9 seconds left, Hayward passed the ball to Willie Veasley behind the baseline and the clock appeared to start prematurely. Veasley passed the ball to Zach Hahn who never got a shot off before time expired.
"Who knows what happened there, it was so crazy," Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said.
The Panthers' fans rushed the court as officials looked at a replay, but there was no view of the clock available.
"We couldn't tell from the TV if the clock started early," referee Todd Williams said.
Stevens credited the officials for taking a look at what happened.
"The referees did what they were supposed to do, they went and looked at the monitor and there was no way to look at the clock," Stevens said. "I'll have to go back and look to see how long it took Zach to get from there to just past halfcourt. I don't know. I don't want to jump to any observations."
After losing Sunday to Loyola, Butler failed again in its attempt to clinch a tie for the conference title for the third straight year. However, the Bulldogs rallied after trailing Milwaukee (15-11, 10-6) by 13 with 8:16 to go thanks to a 10-0 run capped by two baskets by freshman Shelvin Mack, who had 10 points.
Milwaukee's James Eayrs, a 310-pound forward who went 4-of-8 from 3-point range and had 15 points, hit a free throw to make it 62-60 with a minute to go.
Butler's Matt Howard had 20 points and nine rebounds, but couldn't handle a pass in the lane and Smith came away with the ball with 41 seconds left. Tone Boyle missed a shot before the shot clock expired, but Eayrs knocked the rebound away from Howard and Milwaukee retained possession.
"I thought we played defense for just the whole 40 minutes of the game," Eayrs said. "Our intensity was out of this world."
After Ricky Franklin was fouled, he hit the second of two free throws to finish with 11 points and Butler called a timeout with 5.9 seconds left, setting up the final play.
"We knew it was going to be a close game," said Smith, who watched Butler win in overtime in Milwaukee last year.
The Bulldogs hadn't lost two games in a row since road setbacks against Loyola and Youngstown State in January 2006 under Todd Lickliter when Stevens was an assistant. In between, Butler went 92-19.
Butler remains a game ahead of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the Horizon League with two to play and faces an out-of-conference matchup with the nation's leading scorer Stephen Curry and Davidson on Saturday in a game that has NCAA tournament seeding implications if Curry's balky ankle is better.
"The next step is just to go to Davidson," said freshman Ronald Nored, who finished with 10 points. "The pressure's off."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)