MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- The Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship was chalk. Until the finals. No. 2 Butler burst out of the gates in the Horizon League Championship Game and held off No. 1 Milwaukee for a 59-44 win at U.S. Cellular Arena on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs claimed their fifth straight NCAA Tournament bid in front of over 10,000 fans at The Cell.
Butler (23-9) sprinted to a 17-6 lead before many in the capacity crowd had a chance to get their seats, quieting a partisan crowd and forcing Milwaukee (19-13) into catch-up mode the rest of the way. Tournament MVP Matt Howard set the tone, knocking down back-to-back three-pointers in the first five minutes to put the Bulldogs on their way in the first half.
Howard scored 12 of his game-high 18 in the half, but it was Butler's defensive effort that prevented Milwaukee from closing the gap; the Bulldogs forced nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes and limited the Panthers to 4-of-19 shooting. 10 free throws helped UWM hang around, but it was the second half that saw Milwaukee make its run at a NCAA Tournament berth.
Shawn Vanzant knocked down a triple to build the Butler lead to 15, but Tony Meier got going, hitting back-to-back threes to bring the crowd to its feet with the Panthers down, 38-29. The surge continued on three free throws from Tone Boyle and a Ryan Allen layup, bringing Milwaukee to 38-34 with 15:59 left in the game.
Another Allen layup closed the gap to a single possession, 42-39, with 9:45 showing on the clock, but this time it was Butler who mustered a run, using ball movement in transition to get layups for Howard and Vanzant before Howard capped the 6-0 burst with a dunk, forcing a Milwaukee timeout with 8:13 to go and the Bulldogs ahead, 48-39.
Down eight, Milwaukee went back to Anthony Hill, who tried to work down low against Andrew Smith, who was playing with four fouls. Hill's hook rolled off the rim, and on the opposite end, Chase Stigall curled to the corner off an out-of-bounds set and nailed a three, with the five-point swing building Butler's lead to 11. The Bulldogs never led by less the rest of the way.
Howard became the first player in Horizon League history to earn All-Tournament Team honors in each of his four years, receiving MVP honors for the second straight year. The senior was joined by teammates Shelvin Mack and Vanzant, with Mack earning accolades for the third consecutive season. Hill represented Milwaukee on the team, with Brandon Wood of Valparaiso earning the final spot.
Milwaukee will likely head to the NIT as the automatic bid representative of the Horizon League, learning its destination on ESPNU at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday. Butler will be among the 68 teams challenging for the NCAA Championship and will learn its seeding on Sunday on CBS.
Tags: Butler - Men's Basketball · Milwaukee - Men's Basketball