In a game full of bad bounces for Old Dominion, the most devastating was the very last.
Matt Howard's putback just before the final buzzer gave Butler a 60-58 win against the Monarchs in the first round of Thursday's Southeast regional, dashing ODU's hopes of making the kind of NCAA tournament push the Bulldogs have made routine and ending the careers of four Monarchs seniors.
"The Elite Eight was the bar we set last year," junior guard Kent Bazemore said. "To lose like that just cut us off short. It's a tough locker room to be in right now."
Bazemore hit two free throws with 31 seconds to play to erase a six-point Butler lead and tie the game at 58. The Bulldogs didn't use one of their three remaining timeouts, and with 15 seconds left, guard Shawn Vanzant started to run the play Butler coach Brad Stevens called from the sideline.
Vanzant slipped, though, and threw the ball into the air as he fell. Forward Andrew Smith, who combined with Howard to score 26 points, grabbed the loose ball and hurled it toward the basket. It skidded off the left side, where Howard was standing, all by himself.
His layup went through the net just as the buzzer sounded.
"Shock" was what ODU senior forward Frank Hassell, who led all scorers with 20 points but was the only Monarch in double digits, felt. "I was praying to God that the red light came on before the ball left his hands. And then when I saw the replay and it didn't, the shock just turned to hurt. So that kind of stabbed me in the heart."
Officials briefly reviewed the shot to be sure Howard got it off in time.
"I was thinking that there wasn't going to be any time," said Howard, who had 15 points and five rebounds. "I was trying to get (the shot) up as quickly as possible. … I had no doubt we were going to win the game. I didn't think that we were going to win it in that way."
The final play summed up, in heartbreaking fashion, a game full of frustration for the Monarchs (27-7), outrebounded for just the second time all season after coming into the game with the best rebounding margin (plus-12.2) in the country. The Bulldogs (24-9), who lost to Duke in last year's national championship game, shot just 40.7 percent and missed 19 of the 26 3-pointers they took, but came up with timely long offensive rebounds that led to second-chance points or trips to the free-throw line.
"We had the size," said swing player Keyon Carter, one of four seniors who played their last ODU game. "We just didn't get the position, for whatever reason. They were very active on the glass. I guess they were used to chasing the ball down."
ODU coach Blaine Taylor termed some of those misses, launched from long range late in the shot clock, "desperation shots," saying, "And desperation shots sometimes bounce a long ways into some odd spots."
The ninth-seeded Monarchs, who beat Notre Dame 51-50 in last year's first round, came up short in their quest to win back-to-back NCAA tournament games, while eight seed Butler, making its fifth straight NCAA appearance, won a first-round game for the fifth time in its last six tries.
The Monarchs led 29-27 at halftime after Hassell, held to just two points in the game's first 18 minutes, scored six straight points. But ODU made just five shots on 22 attempts (22.7 percent) in the second half.
"We picked a bad time of the year to play bad offensively," said Carter, who scored five of his nine points in the first half. "We played small ball and slowed the ball down way too much. If you give them a chance to get their set defense, it's going to be hard to score, and we did that too much."
ODU last led at 50-49 on Carter's free throws with 7:50 to play and fell behind 58-52 on Howard's free throws with 2:43 left. But the Monarchs pulled within 58-56 on two inside baskets from Hassell, who then stole a lob on the other end.
Ben Finney missed a transition layup and Hassell couldn't convert the putback, but the ball went out of bounds to ODU with 36 seconds to play and a 35 on the shot clock.
"We just kept fighting," Bazemore said. "Any other team would probably lay down, down six with two to play. Any other team would probably have started fouling, but we had confidence in our defense."
Vanzant's reach-in sent Bazemore to the free-throw line with 31.2 seconds left. After Bazemore made the first foul shot, Butler senior guard Zach Hahn — one of three Bulldogs who have now played in 10 NCAA tournament games — mouthed to his teammates, "One shot."
That shot didn't go quite as the Bulldogs planned, but it was enough to give the Monarchs their first loss in their last 10 games.
"It just hurt," Bazemore said. "My whole career with those guys flashed through my head, the ups and downs. … It's a tough pill to swallow."