As if beating Notre Dame and Indiana wasn’t enough of a boost to the Butler men’s 2006-2007 basketball season, their first time in the national rankings in four years definitely proves that this year’s squad is on a roll.
In this week’s Associated Press poll, the Bulldogs are ranked No. 19, and in the ESPN/USA Today poll, the team is ranked 18th. The last time that the Butler men’s basketball team was in the top 25 rankings was during the 2001-’02 season.
After beating No. 22 Tennessee and then No. 23 Gonzaga (56-44 and 79-71, respectively) in the final two games of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden last week, the Bulldogs returned home to host Kent State on Saturday night.
Junior A.J. Graves, who was voted the NIT Season Tip-Off MVP, led Butler to an exciting 83-80, double-overtime victory over the Golden Flashes at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Graves led all scorers with 26 points, and added five assists and two steals in the Bulldogs’ seventh victory of the season.
Kent State head coach Jim Christian commented after the game that Graves is “a great player. He made some huge plays. He’s a hard guy to stop for 40 minutes.”
The victory over Kent State wasn’t an easy one for coach Todd Lickliter’s Bulldogs. Several times the Golden Flashes had the lead, but Butler didn’t give up as Brian Ligon scored on a layup with just seven seconds remaining in regulation.
Kent State was ahead by three points with 11 seconds remaining in the first overtime when Graves hit a three-pointer to tie the game with six seconds left.
Butler went ahead 75-74 in the second overtime session and never gave up the lead again, much to the delight of the 3,647 fans in attendance at Hinkle.
Guard Mike Green hit 12 of 14 free throw attempts and finished with 16 points, while senior Brandon Crone added 15 points. Ligon added a career-high 13 points in the hard-fought Butler victory.
The Bulldogs are on the road tonight at Valparaiso. Their next home game is Saturday night against Cleveland State. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Clowes Memorial Hall box office or TicketMaster (317-239-5151 or www.ticketmaster.com).