Hayward gets down on the floor to lift Butler over Murray State
Gordon Hayward had been teased earlier in the year about a lack of toughness
His diving defensive play at the end spoiled Murray State's Cinderella bid
Butler now advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007
SAN JOSE -- The Butler Bulldogs wanted to get tougher. So coach Brad Stevens came up with a saying: The Game Honors Toughness. TGHT for short. But Gordon Hayward's teammates joked the moniker actually stood for Teach Gordon Hayward Toughness.
Apparently, someone did.
Murray State's audition as this season's potential Cinderella ended Saturday afternoon when the sophomore Hayward -- the Horizon League player of the year -- knocked away the ball from Racers freshman guard Isaiah Canaan and then dove on the court after it as the final seconds drained off the clock.
Murray State had eliminated Vanderbilt with a buzzer-beater on Thursday. The Racers were bounced Saturday, 54-52, on a buzzer-staller.
"It was an unbelievable play at the end by Gordon," Stevens said. "Diving on the floor and tipping that ball keeps the clock running. Heck of a basketball play. Smart."
Fifth-seeded Butler is known as a smarty-pants, disciplined team. The Bulldogs move on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007 where they will face the winner of Syracuse-Gonzaga.
But Stevens was scratching his head over how his team managed to advance.
"We got beat on the glass 39-22. They shot 9 for 14 from the three. And we shot 36 percent from the field," said Stevens, ticking off the Bulldogs' lowlights. "I'm still trying to figure out how the heck we won."
If you're looking for a reason, check the turnover column. Butler had just six, and didn't commit a turnover until 3:07 remained in the first half. In contrast, Murray State turned over the ball 18 times.
Despite that, Murray State -- confident after knocking off No. 4-seed Vanderbilt on a buzzer beater -- stayed with Butler. The Racers fell behind by eight with six minutes to play in the game, but battled back behind solid three-point shooting to take a three point lead with 2:48 remaining.
"At that point, it was just stay tough, and stay together," Butler guard Ronald Nored said. "Murray State is a really good team and they make a lot of runs. We thought if we stayed together and keep fightin' through this that we would be good."
Canaan, coming off the bench, was particularly hot. Murray State's leading scorer with 14 points, Canaan was 4-for-4 from the three-point line.
But the final play will haunt him.
After Butler forward Matt Howard missed his second foul shot, Danero Thomas rebounded the ball. Murray State was hoping to penetrate to get the tying shot -- but the lane was clogged. Canaan ended up with the ball in his hands, looking to pass to Thomas, the hero of Murray State's first-round upset. But Canaan was double-teamed, couldn't find an open teammate and Coach Billy Kennedy was out of timeouts.
Kennedy watched helplessly as Hayward tipped the ball away from Canaan and chased it down the court.
Canaan, a high school star in Biloxi, Miss., left the court in tears.
"I wanted it for our five seniors more than anything," Canaan said. "I hate that it ended that way."
Kennedy did, too. But he wasn't blaming Canaan.
"He's a freshman -- we're not even in the game unless he's playing like that," Kennedy said. "He brought us back into the game, and he just lost the ball."
And Hayward fell on it. His teammates won't get on him about his lack of toughness for awhile. He's got the floor burns to shut them up.
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors