Cleveland State had to win four games to clinch the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament against a well-rested No. 1 seed Butler, who benefited from the double bye, which meant they just had to win two games.
What makes it even more remarkable is that the Vikings were led by the tournament MVP, Cedric Jackson who had a pretty quiet senior year, but came through when it counted tonight with 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
"I realized I was starting to find my touch after I hit my second three in the first half," said Jackson. "After that I wanted to make sure I didn't go overboard."
It was a tight game most of the night with Butler leading by four at the half and Cleveland State (25-10) finally wrestling the lead away from Butler for good at the 9:53 mark in the second half when Jackson hit a 3-pointer to make it 50-48.
While Cleveland depended on senior leadership, the Bulldogs were led by freshman Shelvin Mack with 18 points.
Three different times Butler (26-5) led by as many as eight points and each time the Vikings held the Bulldogs on defense and fought back to erase the lead.
In the end it when down to the wire.
With just under 20 seconds remaining Mack penetrated and got into the lane with Jackson pressuring him the whole way and it paid off as Mack tried to toss it down the baseline to Hayward only to have it picked off by Norris Cole for the turnover.
The Bulldogs promptly fouled Cole and he made one of his two free throws to make the score 57-54. With 14 seconds left both Mack and Hayward got off 3-point shots, but neither were close and the horn sounded.
The only sound at that point was the hundred or so Viking fans in attendance cheering.
Mack felt good when he left the potential game-tying shot go, but went back to work on getting the game tied when it missed.
He said, "It felt good, but once I missed, I didn't worry about it. I moved on and went back to the next play."
Cleveland coach Gary Waters thought the difference in this game, was when his team finally toughened up on defense.
"We didn't start playing defense really well in the beginning, but we got gritty," said Waters.
Sights and Sounds
-If you are a fan of the Horizon League, is it better financially for the schools in the Horizon League to get two teams or to get one team in with a good seed that is in a position to win several games. According to Horizon League Commissioner Jonathon LeCrone there is no difference financially for the League if Butler is the only team and goes two rounds versus Cleveland State winning the Championship, with both teams each playing one game. Obviously, the best scenario is two teams in and at least one winning multiple games.
-This is the 7th time Cleveland State has played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the last 13 months.
-Butler owns more Horizon League Titles (5) than any other active member.
-Butler has won 57 of their last 62 home games at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
-Butler is 13-2 all-time as a #1 seed in Horizon League Tournament play.
-Matt Howard is the sixth player in League history to win Player of the year and Newcomer of the Year honors.
-Butler coach Brad Stevens has moved into the No. 2 spot on the NCAA Division I list for Best Career Coaching Starts-Two Seasons with his 56-8 career record. Bill Guthridge of North Carolina holds the top spot, with a 58-14 record from 1998-1999.
-Former Xavier coach Pete Gillen returns to Hinkle to announce the game for Westwood One radio network. When he coached the Musketeers he used to bring them up to Hinkle each year to play Butler in the old Midwest Collegiate Conference.
-Tonight across town the Pacers are playing, but this is the place to be. For probably 10-20 percent of the cost of a Pacer's ticket a fan can come to a true historic basketball cathedral and watch some fundamentally sound basketball. There isn't any place else I would rather be.
-Cleveland is the first team to win the Horizon League Championship by winning four games since instituting the double bye for the top two seeds
-When Butler receives their expected at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament it will be the third at-large they have received in the last seven years. That is probably the best of any Mid-major team.
-The Horizon League Championship All-Tournament Team
*Cedric Jackson MVP CSU
*Matt Howard BU
*Shelvin Mack BU
*Norris Cole CSU
*J'Nathan Bullock CSU