NEW YORK – Stop me if you’ve heard this before: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
Sure, it’s cliche, but for the Butler Bulldogs, that old adage couldn’t have rang any truer than it did on Thursday night in their Big East tournament matchup against Seton Hall.
Despite trailing for the majority of the game, 36 minutes and 52 seconds to be exact, Butler managed to drown out the overwhelmingly pro-Seton Hall crowd, clawing and biting its way to a thrilling 75-74 win and capturing the first Big East tournament victory in school history.
“That’s a heck of a way to finish the night in Madison Square Garden,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said. “It wasn’t a game of perfect but we didn’t hand out heads when things didn’t go our way. We were down and we just fought back.”
That fight was never more evident than during the chaotic final sequence of the game. Thanks to sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin, whose relentless attack led to the Bulldogs erasing a seven-point Seton Hall lead over a two-and-a-half-minute span, Butler was in position to finally trade blows with the Pirates.
“Our motto is gritty, not pretty,” Baldwin said. “We knew it was going to a battle the whole game. We needed to get stops and get it back and that’s what we did to trim the lead down.”
With 1:10 remaining, sophomore guard Henry Baddley’s lay-up gave Butler a 70-68 lead, its first since 18:17 in the first half, and set off a back-and-forth battle that would officially usher in March for the sellout crowd at MSG.
In those final 70 seconds, Seton Hall and Butler would trade the lead on four occasions, and just when it looked like the Pirates would march on to a semifinal rematch with Villanova thanks to senior guard Khadeen Carrington converting a three-point play, the Bulldogs’ instincts took over.
Trailing 74-73 with 11 seconds to play and armed with two timeouts, Jordan was faced with a decision, one of the biggest in his early coaching career with Butler. The first-year Bulldogs coach recalled several times earlier this season where he “blew” games because of time management and opted to let his guys run.
“We’ve come back from worse than this,” Jordan said. “That builds trust in those moments. They didn’t have timeouts, so the big thing was I didn’t want them to be able to set their defense.”
As Baldwin barreled down the court and the seconds ticked off, the frenzy built inside of the Garden. Baldwin missed his layup, but Tyler Wideman, ironically nicknamed Big Cat, had his back.
“I was able to get there,” Baldwin said. “I wasn’t able to finish. Then Cat, like we always say, the bigs just finish rolling and that’s what he did and put it back for the win.”
Seton Hall would get one last desperation heave from Myles Powell, but it inevitably fell short, and despite leading for just one minute, 38 seconds, Butler clinched a date for a rubber match with Villanova in the tournament semifinals.
“Those guys has set their minds to do something as a group and you knew it was going to take a togetherness and a toughness,” Jordan said. “[It was] poetic justice that Big Cat right here gets the big tip-in to get it done.”
Butler showed that it’s not only the fight in the dogs that matters, sometimes it’s the cats, too.