Bulldogs headed to Sweet 16

For a team picked to finish sixth in its own conference, this year’s Butler Bulldogs continue to show everyone that such a prediction was way off the mark.

The Bulldogs (29-6), No. 5 seed in the Midwest Regional, defeated the No. 12 seed Old Dominion (24-9) 57-46 on March 15 in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, then beat No. 4 seed Maryland 62-59 on Saturday.

“Whenever we play for championships, we want to be successful,” Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. “This team has competed. I know they had a lot of doubters.”

The game against Old Dominion was highlighted by a second half 17-0 scoring run by the Bulldogs that spanned seven minutes and 24 seconds. Junior Pete Campbell kick started the rally by hitting three three-pointers, for his only points in the game.

Butler’s defense held the Monarchs’ three seniors — Valdas Vasylius, Drew Williamson and Arnaud Dahi — to 7-for-28 shooting from the field.

Old Dominion University coach Blaine Taylor was impressed with the Butler squad. “Butler’s had a fabulous season. It seems like they’ve found a way many nights, many days, to get to the winners’ circle.”

Two days later, the Bulldogs were back on the court at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., to face Maryland, an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) powerhouse. Once again, junior guard A.J. Graves led the way, as he scored 19 points in the victory over the Terrapins.

“Man, it was amazing,” said Graves, who hit a key three-pointer with 2:09 left in the game. “To be put in a position like that to make a big play and to have teammates backing up and supporting you, it was just an amazing feeling.”

The Bulldogs’ defense caused the Terrapins to commit 17 turnovers, which helped extend Butler’s season record to 21-0 when they hold an opponent to under 60 points.

The win over Maryland earned the Bulldogs a spot in the Sweet 16 for the third time in the school’s history (1962 and 2003). Butler is 4-1 in the NCAA tournament under coach Lickliter. Saturday’s win was the 29th of the season for Butler, which broke the Horizon League’s previous record of 28, set by Xavier (28-5) in 1989-’90.

The Bulldogs will face the defending national champion Florida Gators on Friday in St. Louis. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:10 p.m.

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