NCAA BK

Unlikely star Howard fuels Butler

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Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. Check out his Yardbarker blog. MORE>>
 
   
 

NEW ORLEANS

Mid-major programs just don’t sustain the loss of lottery picks and remain on the verge of heading to the Final Four.

Not unless they have Matt Howard.

He’s Butler’s undersized, goofy, intelligent and self-deprecating star.

"He’s the weirdest kid I’ve ever met,” Bulldogs teammate Shelvin Mack said after Butler knocked off Wisconsin, 61-54, Thursday night and advanced to the Elite Eight.

In an era in which the phrase “student-athlete” is tossed around freely and excessively, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Howard is the poster child.

Howard is also Butler basketball.

A year ago, he was easy to mock. He had the cheesy mustache and couldn’t manage to stay out of foul trouble.

"Everyone laughed at me,” Howard admitted.

This year the mustache is history, replaced by the shaggy hair that hasn’t been snipped since October.

“I think I did us a lot of favor by having that mustache,” Howard said. “I’m serious. I think to some degree some teams had to look at that and just be like, ‘There’s no way this guy can play the game at all.’ Maybe there was some validity to that. But I just couldn’t do that to my team and to myself again this year.”

But no one is laughing these days.

"He’s the ultimate teammate,” Butler point guard Ronald Nored said of Howard. "We try to get him to be more selfish.”

But Howard learned how to be unselfish and how to excel as one of 10 children (he was the eighth) while growing up in Connersville, Indiana.

"We had to share a whole lot of stuff,” Howard said.

Try one bathroom for 10 kids – including five sisters.

"Imagine that,” he laughs. "That’s intense sharing.”

However, on the court, Howard refuses to share with the opposition. He goes hard every possession, after every ball.

Howard made the game-winning bucket as the buzzer sounded in Butler’s first NCAA tournament game last weekend in Washington, D.C. against Old Dominion. Then he hit a free throw with 0.8 seconds left to help knock off No. 1 seed Pittsburgh.

Thursday night, with 28.6 seconds left, it was no surprise that Howard – using just sheer will, determination and hustle – grabbed the offensive rebound off Shelvin Mack’s missed free throw, got fouled and sealed the game.

"That’s what he does,” Mack said.

Howard finished with 20 points and a dozen boards in the win which sent Butler to the Elite Eight and a date with Florida on Saturday afternoon.

"He makes you play hard,” frontcourt mate Andrew Smith said. "I’ve never seen him take a play off – in a game, practice or even an open gym.”

"You don’t want to let him down,” added teammate Shawn Vanzant.

"Otherwise he looks at you with those eyes,” Nored continued.

Howard was known strictly as a post player for his first three seasons in college. Now he does everything.

He can be a distributor at times and step out and make shots from beyond the arc – at an impressive clip of 43 percent - with the emergence of 6-foot-11 sophomore Andrew Smith.

Howard made 3-of-5 shots from deep against the Badgers.

Howard is equally entertaining off the court.

Here’s a guy who hadn’t gone to the movie theater in about five years until recently – when the team took in one (he couldn’t remember the name) in Cleveland earlier in the year.

There was the bike accident not too long ago when he flipped over his broken handlebars.

His socks look as though they’ve been on his feet since junior high.

“I overuse things,” Howard admitted. “Again, like I’m saying, I’m low-maintenance, is how people describe me, and that’s true. I get ridiculed about the knee brace. Obviously it’s not in perfect condition. The socks are not tight to my leg. They call them the floppy socks and turtleneck socks. I think they’re jealous, personally.”

What makes people jealous is that Howard never stops – and just flat-out outworks everyone. He’s like a poor man’s Tyler Hansbrough.

He’s listed at 6-foot-8, but…

"I’m 6-7 on a good day,” he jokes.

He knows the opposition laughs at him – as was the case against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament a year ago.

"They look at me and think that there’s no way I can play,” Howard said. "That’s fine.”

That’s just the way he likes it.
 

Tagged: Butler, Shelvin Mack, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, Andrew Smith

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