With 3.5 seconds left, the Gonzaga Bulldogs looked well on their way to getting a huge road win at Butler but everything changed in an instant...
To say that Gonzaga fans are feeling a flood of emotions at this time would be an understatement. As I sit in the Indianapolis Airport and see a plethora of Butler fans walk by, I know that I should be enthusiastic that I just witnessed one of the more incredible games in my life at such an amazing venue. With that said, all enthusiasm is quick to vanish when the memories rush back of exactly what happened last night. It makes me want to get out of here as soon as possible and never return to this basketball-obsessed state ever again. The good news is that this is still a 17-2 team and are still in good position to win the WCC and get a great seed in the tournament. Positive thoughts may be few and far between among Zag fans, but we got to grasp onto something, right?
The game actually progressed like many fans across the country that it would. It was a battle of strengths. Gonzaga would do whatever they could to force their will inside and Butler was content to hang out on the perimeter and bury threes. Both teams did a nice job executing their gameplan for the most part. Sam Dower and Elias Harris were outstanding in the post for the Bulldogs and Kelly Olynyk did a nice job but he was once again saddled with fouls throughout most of the contest. On the other side, Butler kept the Zags honest with a fantastic shooting performance. Brad Stevens' club went 8-19 from beyond the arc which featured four threes from Kellen Dunham and a pair from Chase Stigall. The X-Factor for Butler tonight however was the man that eventually buried the Zags, Roosevelt Jones. The undersized sophomore forward will likely never be featured in any basketball mechanics videos but he characterizes everything that is Butler. Everything he seemed to throw up went in, including the final shot.
Butler's defensive strategy was focused on not allowing any of the Gonzaga guards go off. The were vigilant on ball screens at the top to double team the guard and let the screener run free. Time and time again, Gonzaga bigs got the ball in favorable spots and Sam Dower, Elias Harris, and Kelly Olynyk delivered. Dower was particularly sensational, especially in the first half as he scored 16 of his 20 in the first 20 minutes. In typical Sam fashion, he scored from everywhere on the court and showed how smooth and prolific he can be when he's on. Elias Harris' game was, well, powerful. He made a number of plays down the stretch for Gonzaga including an incredible bank shot from the corner late in the game. Also saddled with fouls throughout the game, Harris managed to finish with 20 points on 8-14 shooting and 7 rebounds.
The play of the game and the play we are all going to see on every highlight reel until April is the inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds left. When the Zags were lining up, you could almost tell something wasn't going to go right. The Zags were scrambling without a timeout and opted to spread the court and simply lob the ball to Kelly Olynyk. While there is no doubt that Roosevelt Jones gave Kelly a good shove to get to the ball, I can't imagine we will be seeing that inbounds play featured again by the Gonzaga staff. Rather than trying to run someone towards the Butler hoop and extend the floor even in the event there was a steal, the staff chose to lob it to Kelly in center court and it backfired in the most remarkable of ways. Once he stole it, there was no doubt that Jones was going to make the shot.
These types of losses can have a major impact on the rest of the season. Gonzaga has a big home game coming up against BYU and they will absolutely be licking their chops as they know the Zags will be walking a bit wounded. At 17-2, this team has absolutely nothing to hang their heads or be ashamed over but it is so crucial now that they dominate the West Coast Conference or else we will all be discussed what East Coast destination Gonzaga will be traveling to in the NCAA Tournament. The Zags' resilience in one of the more hostile environments I have ever seen last night was extremely impressive. What is important now is to have a short memory and not let this loss linger into BYU and future games.