Barlow not losing focus after big win
Butler guard Alex Barlow expected Monday morning's practice to be routine.
On the court, it was. Off the court, it was nowhere close.
Three players, including Barlow, were doing phone interviews. A couple of others were being pulled aside to talk to the reporters. Coach Brad Stevens sat patiently in the stands answering questions, all of this indicating that America's NCAA tournament darlings were back on the map.
''It's kind of weird watching yourself on TV,'' said Barlow, the 5-foot-11 walk-on who hit the winning shot in Saturday's 88-86 overtime win over No. 1 Indiana. ''It's kind of crazy to hear how people have misspoken some of our names or call me a former college baseball player.''
There's no mistaking how Barlow and the Bulldogs got back here. The little school from Indianapolis is again beating college basketball's big boys in ways nobody thought possible.
On Saturday, it was Barlow who emerged as the unlikeliest star.
The sophomore from football powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller came to Butler to get a firsthand lesson in Basketball Coaching 101 from Stevens. He turned down multiple scholarship offers to play baseball, what many including his father thought was his best sport, and had scored just 12 points in nine games this season and 18 in his college career.
But with 6 seconds left in overtime, the wispy-looking guard slowly walked toward the lane, backed down Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls toward the basket, then suddenly spun around and let loose a 6-foot jumper that hit the back of the rim and finally rattled in for the lead with less than 3 seconds to play. Barlow finished with six points, all in overtime. A career high.
What nearly got lost in the celebration, though, was that Barlow also came up with one of the key defensive plays of the game: a steal that led to Chase Stigall's 3-pointer, giving Butler an 86-84 lead that allowed the Bulldogs to dictate the rest of the game.
Those who know Barlow weren't nearly as surprised as the Hoosiers (9-1) or the national television audience.
''He's pretty measured in his words and he won't take any grief. He's a tough guy,'' Stevens said. ''His high school coach (Carl Kremer) said he was similar to another Moeller kid we had, Mike Monserez, in competitiveness and will, and I think he (Monserez) was one of the all-time greats we've had here. So I told Carl if he (Barlow) wants to be here, it's automatic that he can walk on."
Barlow did consider two other schools, Clemson and Arizona State, but knew Butler was the right place for him after just one visit.
Now he will go down as the latest little-known Butler star to emerge on the national stage.
The group includes Joel Cornette, who traded shoes with another player after chasing a loose ball and running into a water cooler during Butler's 2003 NCAA tournament run to the regional semifinals; Darnell Archey, the 3-point specialist who set the NCAA record for most consecutive free throws and is on Stevens' staff; A.J. Graves, the MVP of the 2006 NIT Season Tip-Off, who had never been to New York City before that tournament; Gordon Hayward, who led Butler to the 2010 title game and just missed making a buzzer-beating half-court heave that would have beaten Duke for the title; and Matt Howard, the strong inside presence who was the key to Butler's back-to-back runs to the title game.
Now there's Barlow.
''We went out to Applebee's after the game and he was on the phone the whole time. We started calling him big shot,'' shooting guard Rotnei Clarke said, laughing. ''It was fun messing with him because he gets a little sensitive about it.''
The Bulldogs (8-2) should be getting used to this after the two tourney runs in 2010 and 2011, and now they're back at it, winning the Butler Way.
At last month's Maui Invitational, Clarke hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off Marquette. The next night, Butler steamrolled North Carolina. On Dec. 8 they won at Northwestern, and then the Bulldogs pulled the biggest upset of the early season by taking down their fourth BCS-conference school of the season, Indiana, for the first win over a No. 1 team in school history.
''I was praying it would go in because looked like it was coming out to the right,'' Clarke said of Barlow's shot.
The voters have taken notice, too.
Just hours after the Bulldogs wrapped up their morning practice, Butler debuted at No. 19 in this week's Top 25. The only losses this season have to No. 10 Illinois in Maui and at Xavier.
Stevens is not as impressed as some of the outsiders, especially with what he saw against Indiana.
''My biggest thing is that we didn't play perfect,'' he said. ''So we put together a what-if video, a video of about 15 plays that if they had gone the other way, we wouldn't be as happy today.''
Or as busy dealing with all those outside influences that have become more commonplace when the Bulldogs beat the big boys.
Not that Barlow or his teammates mind, since they know it's time to get back to reality.
''It's been crazy, I've gotten a lot of texts and phone messages and social media stuff, but I don't get too caught up in that stuff,'' Barlow said. ''The coaches do tell us all the time that we can beat anyone on any given day, but they also tell us we can get beaten on any given night. I'm not going to say we expected to win (against Indiana), but it was not a surprise to us.''