Mighty Mack vaults Butler into title game with big scoring day
HOUSTON (AP) -- Shelvin Mack wasn't daunted by playing on college basketball's biggest stage.
After all, this was nothing new for Butler.
Mack scored 24 points, including 10 straight in a key second-half run, and the Bulldogs beat Virginia Commonwealth 70-62 on Saturday night for their second straight trip to the title game.
"We're just looking forward to the game on Monday," Mack said with a huge smile.
The junior seemed perfectly comfortable from the start, then stepped up in the second half when most of his team was struggling on offense. Butler led by one before Mack outscored VCU 10-4 in a stretch covering just over 2 minutes, the lead swelling to 54-47.
He was 5 of 6 from beyond the 3-point line.
"He was a killer tonight," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "He stepped up and made some huge, huge shots, especially from beyond the arc."
Mack shared the spotlight with Matt Howard, who had 17 points, to give America's favorite underdogs another shot at the national championship.
The pair talked after the game about how it felt playing in the Final Four again.
"Tonight it's just like any game, weirdly enough," Howard said. "In our minds I don't think we let our surroundings get to us. It didn't feel like a national semifinal."
Butler lost to Duke in last year's title game when a half-court shot by Gordon Hayward bounced off the rim at the buzzer. Hayward left school early for the NBA, leaving Mack and Howard to lead the Bulldogs deep into this year's NCAA tournament.
The sting of that loss has stayed with this team.
"This is great, but we're not going not going to settle on just getting back," teammate Zach Hahn said. "I remember the sour taste it left in my mouth last year and I just think this group, we're here now and we have a chance. That's all you can ask."
Howard raved about Mack when asked to describe his teammate.
"An incredible basketball player," Howard said. "He has a will and determination that's unlike many guys."
Butler led by six at halftime, but saw its advantage slip away as during a slow start to the second half. The Bulldogs didn't score until Howard's layup almost 4 minutes out of the break.
Hahn, who has had a relatively quiet tournament, stepped up for Butler by scoring its next eight points - and Mack took over from there. He made two straight 3s for the Bulldogs before driving into the lane for a layup. He finished his run with a jumper with 9 minutes left.
"That's why we're here," Hahn said of the balanced offense, with everyone contributing key baskets down the stretch. "There's no other explanation. It's not one guy making plays. It's literally a collective effort, it's all 14 guys."
Howard had to sit out for a few minutes late in the game after picking up his fourth foul about the same time Mack was finishing his run. Once he got back on the floor, Howard hit a layup and four free throws in the final minute to secure the win.
Freshman Khyle Marshall said that Howard, Mack and the other veterans made it easy for the younger guys to deal with the pressure of the Final Four.
"We have 10 guys who were here last year and they know how to handle it and what they want to do," Marshall said. "Just mimicking what they do is pretty easy."
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