WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Mike Miller scored as the overtime buzzer sounded to lift fifth-seeded Florida to a thrilling 69-68 victory over No. 12 Butler in an NCAA Tournament East Region first-round contest.
Given new life after Butler's LaVall Jordan missed a pair of free throws with 8.1 seconds left, the Gators (25-7) put the ball into the hands of their best all-around player in Miller, who drove from the left wing and made a leaner in the lane to set off a wild celebration by the Florida bench.
"We work on that everyday," Miller said of the game-winning shot. "It's not drawn up like that, but we practice plays with 12 seconds or less. Ted (Dupay) did a great job penetrating and getting me the ball. I just floated something up and am lucky enough it went in." Miller's heroics propelled the Gators into the second round on Sunday, when they will face former coach Lon Kruger and Illinois. Kruger guided Florida to the 1994 Final Four.
"I'm just so proud of our kids and the character and heart that they showed," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "When a (great defensive) team like Butler has a four-point lead over you with less than two minutes to play, that's like 10 points against any other team." Butler (23-8), appearing in the NCAA Tournament for just the fourth time in school history, blew a seven-point lead in the final 4:01 of regulation. The Bulldogs also held a 68-65 lead following Andrew Graves' 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the extra session.
"Our season is over and I told our team that I thank God that all of us could cross paths," Butler coach Barry Collier said. "Florida played a really hard-fought game. They won it by playing excellent defense and keeping our shots out of the game." Graves' shot from the left wing appeared to give the Midwestern Collegiate Conference champions control, and on the other end Miller's 3-point attempt was blocked by Joel Cornette. After a wild scramble, Matt Bonner picked up the loose ball, only to misfire on a 3-pointer.
The ball, however, was knocked out of bounds to the Gators, who following a timeout cut the deficit to 68-67 on a driving layup by Kenyan Weaks with 10 seconds to play.
Jordan was fouled moments later, but the 83 percent free throw shooter could not convert at the line and Florida was able to steal the victory.
Miller collected 16 points and 13 rebounds, Weaks added 13 points and Udonis Haslem had 10 before fouling out in the waning moments of regulation.
Haslem, teammate Donnell Harvey and Butler's forward tandem of Mike Marshall and Rylan Hainje all watched the final moments from the bench with five fouls. But the Gators, who had 10 players play at least nine minutes, and more in reserve.
"It was gut-check time when that (Haslem and Harvey fouling out) happened," Weaks said. "Our (bench) players had to step up and they did. I'm very happy for them." Graves scored 20 points in 32 minutes off the bench. Scott Robisch contributed 14 points and seven rebounds and Cornette, a 6-10 freshman, had 11 and five for the Bulldogs, who committed 18 turnovers and shot just 36 percent (22-of-51).
"The shot I made was probably the biggest one I made all year," Graves said. "They just flew down the floor and Miller just overpowered us." Butler, which is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, site of this year's Final Four, appeared to be on the verge of pulling the first major upset of the NCAA Tournament. It led 56-49 with 4:18 left in regulation following a jumper by Cornette.
But Miller drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key and cut the deficit to two shortly thereafter with a pair of free throws. After a short jumper by Cornette, baskets by Haslem and Weaks tied it.
Robisch put Butler back on top by making two foul shots with 42 seconds to go, but Haslem did the same with 15 seconds left.
The Bulldogs had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but Jordan could not hit a jumper from the right side as the buzzer sounded.
Florida never led during the extra session until Miller's game-winner.
"There was a lot of jockeying and putting the right combinations on the floor," Donovan said of the final few minutes. "I don't think about winning the game or losing the game. I was taking it play-by-play. I was just trying to put our guys in the best possible position to win the game." The Gators, who committed 19 turnovers, shot 41 percent (28-of-69) and were 5-of-23 from 3-point range. They held a 46-41 advantage on the boards but were outscored at the foul line, 19-8.
Butler was 19-of-26 at the line and 5-of-16 from beyond the arc.
"We have a spirit and a heart and the kind of things you just love to coach," Collier added.