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Associated Press, Published April 04 2010

Butler's storybook season moves to championship game

INDIANAPOLIS – Kansas – gone.

Kentucky – gone.

Syracuse – gone.

Little Butler – still going.

How’s that for a Hollywood hoops script. Call it “Hoosiers,” the sequel.

Gordon Hayward had 19 points and nine rebounds, including one with 2 seconds left that sealed the game. The small school looked anything but, taking down another of college basketball’s biggest names with a 52-50 victory over Michigan State in the Final Four on Saturday night.

Butler (33-4) now plays in Monday night’s title game, in its hometown, no less.

“We’ve been talking about the next game all year, and it’s great to be able to say the next game’s for a national championship,” Hayward said.

The entire Hoosier state is along for the ride. Indiana and Purdue may be the state’s traditional basketball powerhouses, but it’s little Butler – enrollment 4,200 – that’s big time now.

“If I was not playing, I’d be a Butler fan,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I like they way they play, I like their story. They play like a Big Ten team.”

Michigan State (28-9) has been living on the edge all tournament, ravaged by injuries and squeaking through game after game, and this night was no different. After trailing by as much as seven in the second half, Draymond Green made a pair of free throws to pull Michigan State within 50-49 with 56 seconds left.

Ronald Nored missed a jumper, and Michigan State got the rebound. But Hayward wouldn’t give the driving Green an inch, forcing him to put up an awkward layup that didn’t come close. Nored scooped up the rebound, and Green had no choice but to foul him, ending the big fella’s game.

Nored, who had been just 3 for 12 from the line in the tournament, made both, and the Bulldogs had a 52-49 lead with 6 seconds to play.

“One thing about us is there’s never a sense of fear,” Nored said. “We’re confident in everything we do.”

After a timeout, the Spartans inbounded the ball and Butler was all over them, choosing to foul rather than take a chance on the Spartans getting off a 3 – like they did to beat Maryland at the buzzer. Korie Lucious made the first and bricked the second as Hayward came up with the ball to seal the victory and set off a party the likes of which Indiana hasn’t seen since tiny Milan beat Muncie Central for the state title in 1954, the real-life inspiration for “Hoosiers.”

“I don’t know if I got a piece of the ball, maybe a piece of his arm,” Hayward said. “I’m just glad we got that last stop.”

Although the Bulldogs are no plucky underdog, there’s no doubting the connections between “Hoosiers” and Butler’s magical run. In the movie, the final score was 42-40. The actual Milan final score – 32-30.

And Saturday night, 52-50, extending the nation’s best winning streak to 25 – and counting.

Watching it all unfold was Bobby Plump, whose buzzer-beating jumper gave Milan the win.

“We might not have believed it when we said it in our first team meeting in the fall, but if we focus and do our jobs, then why can’t we play for a national championship?” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “That’s been our focus all along. I walked out of that room and I kind of thought, ‘I hope we’ll get a chance to do this.’ This is a great story.”