LEXINGTON, Ky. – Alex Barlow wasn’t widely known on Dec. 14. One day later, the entire college basketball world knew about Butler’s sophomore guard, a former walk-on.
High-flying Louisville sophomore forward Chane Behanan was a preseason All-Big East selection. Maybe his season hasn’t individually gone the way others thought it would but starting for the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament easily makes up for such things.
The two kids with roots in Southwest Ohio have different backgrounds and different games but Saturday at Rupp Arena they’ll both be playing to help their teams reach familiar territory, the Sweet Sixteen.
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Barlow, a Moeller graduate from Springboro, had his first career double-figure scoring game with 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and made four steals as Butler, the No. 6 seed in the East region, pulled away from No. 11 Bucknell Thursday afternoon for a 68-56 win. The Bulldogs, back in the tournament after a one-year absence, have a date with third-seeded Marquette in Saturday’s third round after Marquette rallied to defeat No. 14 Davidson, 59-58.
Behanan finished with eight points and one rebound in just 19 minutes of play as No. 1 Louisville easily handled No. 16 North Carolina A&T 79-48 to advance in the Midwest regional bracket. The Cardinals will play No. 8 Colorado State for the right to play in the regional tournament in Indianapolis next weekend. Louisville was a Final Four team last season and has every aspiration of that and more this time around.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Behanan played his freshman and sophomore high school seasons at Aiken before circumstances forced his family to move to Bowling Green, Ky. He was a McDonald’s All-American his senior season at Bowling Green High School before signing with Louisville.
“We’re trying to make this journey the most memorable so we can come back when we’re old and talk about it over a glass of red wine,” said Behanan. “We’ve got five more to lock in and focus in. The next two weeks, let’s get the job done. I’m ready.”
Behanan’s individual numbers have been on the decline recently – he hasn’t scored in double figures in the last seven games, the same stretch of games in which he has failed to garner more than four rebounds – but he was unfazed by such talk Thursday night. So much so, he and the rest of the team got a good laugh at Behanan’s expense in the first half when he missed a dunk after a steal.
“I expect that more out of me than Chane,” said backup center Stephen Van Treese.
“Normally if somebody else was on the break and there was a guy running, I hustle behind because maybe I get a little scrap point,” said guard Russ Smith. “I didn’t expect (him) to miss that. Thank God we got it back. It was really funny.”
Behanan could do nothing after the game but take all the grief his teammates were dishing out. “I thought they were going to call traveling,” he said. “I thought I took off from the three-point line, I thought I took three steps and thought (the referee) was going to call it. I was going to come down. I’m not making any excuses. I was going to dunk it. That’s the first dunk they’ve probably ever seen me miss.”
Barlow has played in all 34 games for Butler this season with 22 starts but he is most remembered for hitting a floater in the lane with 2.6 seconds remaining in overtime to beat then-No. 1 ranked Indiana, 88-86 in the middle of December. He has earned his keep at Butler after walking on as a freshman.
That was the plan all along for the 5-11, 187-pound Barlow. Discussions and research with Moeller coach Carl Kremer helped lead Barlow to Butler.
“We talked a lot about places and we both came up with Butler just because of the type of style that they play, coach (Brad) Stevens is a great coach and the rest of the coaches are awesome,” said Barlow. “They know their stuff and they are people I want to learn from. (Stevens) told me I’d have a chance to earn minutes whether I was on scholarship or I walked on and that really stuck with me. I wanted to go some place where I would have to earn it. I’ve been fortunate enough to earn it.”
Barlow’s outburst on Thursday pushed his scoring average up to 2.2 points per game but, like Behanan, numbers certainly don’t tell the entire story. He got the start against Bucknell over freshman Kellen Dunham because of coach Brad Steven’s gastronomy, and Bucknell guard Bryson Johnson.
Johnson came into the game averaging 11.1 points per game and shooting 40 percent from behind the three-point line. He finished the game with nine points, six of which came in the final 1:14 of the game after the Bulldogs were in command.
“Barlow was dialed into a different level than pretty much any other guy we had on our team the last couple of days with his study, with getting into the film room, with his ability to read actions,” said Stevens. “I thought if we started well on Johnson it would be a hard day for Johnson, and until the end of the game, it was. That was just one of those initial gut feelings and I ran it by my numbers guy and got the approval and so we did it.”
Butler led by one point, 41-40, when Barlow stole the ball and scored on a break-away layup with 7:30 remaining. He would add a blocked shot, two rebounds and hit all four of his free throws the rest of the way.
“It’s been a crazy year but it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunities,” said Barlow. “Now we’re in the tournament. It’s been a lot of fun. I wouldn’t trade this season for anything and hopefully we can keep going. We’re just going to keep fighting.”
Barlow and Behanan crossed paths in high school when Aiken ended Moeller’s season in 2009 in a Division I district final game. They won’t cross paths in this tournament unless it’s in the national title game, but one never knows.
“You have to have fun,” said Behanan. “We know when to be serious and when to have fun. That’s the part you’re talking about when you get old, the fun part of it about what you did and what you didn’t do. I’m just excited to play.”