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Salt Licked City: Butler 63, Syracuse 59

So, that happened.

The sophomore duo of Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack combined for 31 points, as fifth-seeded Butler rallied to post a 63-59 upset win over top-seeded Syracuse in the Midwest Region semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

While Mack scored all 14 of his points in the first half, Hayward carried the load in the second and finished with 17, including three free throws during the Bulldogs' 13-5 run to end the game.

To be honest, I don't have the time or energy to get into the specifics.  I hate to be cliche but Butler played the game with nothing to lose and a belief in themselves to win.  The Orange came into the game full of trepidation and tried their best just not to lose.  They were nervous.  They were timid.  They second-guessed themselves.  At the end of the day, they played nothing like the loose, exciting squad we'd seen all season.  And Butler is too good of a squad to let that slide.

Butler coach Brad Stevens must have been salivating when he realized, within the first two minutes of the game, that SU was playing this way.  He must've known he had them right then and there.  Even when Syracuse made its run in the second half to catch up and eventually take the lead, he clearly knew that as long as Butler kept the game at their speed, they would have a good shot.  And so they did.

By now we've analyzed all the issues.  The backbreaking turnovers.  Wes Johnson disappeared in the game's final minutes (as he was wont to do).  Rick Jackson...I mean, I still don't understand what happened with Rick.  My guess?  He was so nervous about contact and forcing anything after picking up three fouls quickly in the Gonzaga game that he spend the entire week trying to make sure he didn't put himself in the same position again.  But by playing with that mindset, he became overly timid, to the point he seemed afraid to create anything at all.

The truly frustrating part is that Syracuse could have won the game.  And not in the "we were more talented" sense.  In the quite literal, "we were the better team in the 2nd half" sense. Until the wheels came off in the final minutes, the Orange looked every bit the one-seed about to retake what was rightfully theirs.  Argh...

The rationalization has begun for Cuse Nation. Regardless, the season is over and it's over before any of us expected it to be.  We're already on our way down off the emotional Matterhorn we climbed last night but it's probably going to be a couple days until we get back down to sea level.  And of course Syracuse fans haven't really even begun to process what that loss meant for the Big East in general.  Not that we care about that yet.  We will, eventually.  But we've got our stuff to worry about right now.

GREAT season.  GREAT players.  BUMMER of an ending, but with college basketball, it almost usually is.

Sweet 16 Day 2: Syracuse vs. Butler - Syracuse locker room