No. 14 Butler narrowly escapes upset
There were two held balls and an out-of-bounds traveling call in the final 10 seconds. A ranked team nearly blew a 17-point lead against a team that starts four freshmen. At one point, the officials — who had to use a sub after a first-half injury — forgot that a free throw was the front end of a 1-and-1.
Such were the oddities of No. 14 Butler's first trip to the Smith Center as the Bulldogs make their inaugural tour of unfamiliar hostile environments in the school's first Atlantic 10 season.
Butler held on for a 59-56 win over George Washington on Saturday, despite going the final 7½ minutes without a field goal. The arena's first sellout crowd since 2006 nearly willed the Colonials to victory against the new kid with the target on his back.
''Five straight places that have been absolutely jumping,'' Butler coach Brad Stevens said. ''You have to find a way to be tough. You have to find a way to stay together. Nothing builds team like that kind of environment. I really like it.''
The Bulldogs (20-4, 7-2 A-10) improved to 3-2 on the road in the conference, but only because they built enough of a cushion to withstand GW's feisty comeback.
Butler led 48-31 with 12 minutes to play, but the Colonials' full-court press and Roosevelt Jones' poor free-throw shooting — he entered the game shooting 59.1 percent and went 2-for-9 from the line, all in the second half — helped get the Colonials back into the game and set up a frenetic finish.
After Joe McDonald cut the lead to five with a free throw with 1:34 remaining, Jones was fouled and missed two more at the line. Lasan Kromah's tip-in then made it 57-54 with 52 seconds to play, and McDonald then made a steal in the backcourt and was fouled. He made both free throws, and it was 57-56 with 44 seconds left.
Kellen Dunham made two free throws with 24 seconds left to restore Butler's three-point lead. With a chance to tie, McDonald missed a 3-pointer, and a held ball was called on the rebound with nine seconds remaining. Possession went to Butler, but Jones was called for traveling along the baseline before throwing the ball inbounds.
Nemanja Mikic missed another 3 for the Colonials (11-11, 5-4), and another held ball gave the ball back to George Washington. McDonald had the ball for one final shot, but he was stripped in a crowd as he went up for the shot.
''We just couldn't get that open 3,'' said George Washington coach Mike Lonergan, whose team shot 1-for-12 from 3-point range.
Stevens said he didn't consider taking Jones out of the game, even when it became apparent the junior forward was going to be fouled at every opportunity.
''No thought at all,'' Stevens said, ''because he gets every loose ball. Loose balls are a lot more important, and Roosevelt's a big shot maker.''
Jones was wearing padding after he hurt his shoulder Wednesday against St. Bonaventure, but he said the injury didn't affect him. He finished with 12 points, and Rotnei Clark scored 14 to lead the Bulldogs.
Isaiah Armwood had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Colonials, who were hosting their highest-ranked opponent since 2000. The Colonials shot 28 percent and were rattled early, prompting Lonergan to call the veterans off his bench.
''There was definitely some nerves,'' he said.
Butler took the lead for good with a 17-2 run in the first half, holding the Colonials without a field goal for nearly eight minutes. Leading 31-22 at halftime, the Bulldogs pushed the lead to 17 on consecutive jumpers by Clark.
But foul trouble hurt Butler late. Erik Fromm got his fifth with 6:48 remaining, and Andrew Smith was gone with 4:52 to go. Shortly afterward, the Colonials cut the deficit to single digits for the first time in the second half on Kromah's layup with 4:21 left.
But they couldn't finish the comeback.
''It hurts when you're so close,'' Lonergan said. ''But it beats losing by 30.''
One of the officials, Joe DeMayo, left the game late in the first half with a right Achilles injury. The teams finished the half with two officials, and a substitute joined the crew for the second half.
George Washington hasn't beaten a ranked team at home since 1998. Saturday's game was homecoming, and it celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 1993 team that made the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.