INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Only in the land of the Hoosiers could a small town Division II men's basketball team beat a big city Division I squad that has finished second in the last two NCAA championships.
Northern State beat Butler University 53-50 in an exhibition game on Wednesday that was fittingly played in Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., where portions of the classic basketball movie “Hoosiers” were filmed.
The Northern and Butler game was the last of three exhibition games for the Wolves in four days against Division I teams.
“It's been a tough week. We faced pretty good teams,” said Northern men's basketball coach Paul Sather. “I thought we got better each night. We can't make our season be about this game. It's an exhibition game. The guys made some big plays. I'm proud of how our guys dug in in a tough environment. It's good that we not only won the game, but we got better.”
The two teams were tied at 25-all at halftime. The only tie score of the second half came on a field goal by NSU's Collin Pryor with less than a minute remaining. Andrew Smith of Butler missed the front end of a free throw on the home team's next possession and the ball went out of bounds for a Northern team rebound. The Wolves took possession with 35.9 seconds on the clock.
After a timeout Northern elected to play for one shot. The Wolves worked the clock down and the only senior on the team, Alex Thomas, drained the winning three-point field goal at the buzzer.
“Once we got inside of 10 (seconds) we were going to set a ball screen for Collin,” said Sather. “Players just make plays. You put your players in a position to make plays. I'm proud of Alex for making that shot. It was a fun moment for him as well as a little bit of history in this building.”
The home Bulldogs shot just 25 percent from the field in the first half, and Northern connected on 50 percent of its shots and pulled down six more rebounds.
The first half featured eight ties and the Wolves had four leads. Pryor knotted the game at halftime with a field goal to make it 25-25. Pryor made all seven of his first half field goal attempts.
Thomas, who hit the game winner, said that the Wolves knew it was going to get tougher in the second half.
The Bulldogs scored nine unanswered points to take a 38-30 lead early in the second half. The Wolves pulled to within 45-41 in a low scoring game on a field goal by Dustin Tetzlaff at the eight-minute mark.
Butler still led 50-41 with 4 minutes remaining but the Bulldogs would not score again. The Wolves whittled away at the lead. NSU freshman Seth Bachand made a field goal and Trent Zomer followed with an old fashioned three-point play with a field goal and free throw with less than three minutes on the clock. Pryor's second field goal of the second half tied the game at 50-50 with 51 seconds left.
Tetzlaff, who stands 6-foot-7, fouled out guarding Butler's Andrew Smith at 6-11. Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw and the rebound went Northern's way out of bounds setting up Thomas' heroics and a finish made for movies.
“I thought our bench and our young guys made plays,” said Sather. “Seth was tough and Dustin did a good job on the big guy.”
Pryor, who poured in 14 points in the first half, finished with 18 to top the Wolves to go along with seven rebounds.
The Bulldogs, who lost six players from last year's second place team, shot just 33 percent from the field and 52 percent from the free throw line in the game. Smith topped all scorers with 19 points and Marshall added 14.
Butler was ranked 31st in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today preseason national polls.
Butler hosts a second exhibition game on Saturday against Franklin. Northern State is off until Nov. 15 when the Wolves host Jamestown College in the regular season opener.
NORTHERN STATE: Collin Pryor 9 0-0 18, Trent Zomer 2 1-1 6, Dustin Tetzlaff 3 0-0 6, Seth Bachand 2 0-3 4, Tydan Storrusten 1 2-2 5, Alex Thomas 2 0-1 5, Geoffrey Firmin 1 0-0 3, Michael Emge 1 0-0 2, Jared Hannigan 2 0-1 4. Totals 23-50 3-8 53.
BUTLER UNIVERSITY: Ronald Nored 1 0-1 2, Andrew Smith 5 8-12 19, Chase Stigall 3 1-3 9, Roosevelt Jones 3 0-0 6, Khyle Marshall 6 2-3 14, Kameron Woods 0 0-2 0. Totals 18-55 11-21 50.
Halftime score - Northern 25, Butler 25. 3-point field goals - Northern 4-12 (Zomer, Storrusten, Thomas, Firmin); Butler 3-18 (Smith, Stigall 2). Total fouls - Northern 18; Butler 13. Fouled out - Northern, Tetzlaff. Rebounds - Northern 35 (Pryor 7); Butler 31 (Smith 8). Assists - Northern 8; Butler 9. Blocks - Northern 3; Butler 4. Steals - Northern 6; Butler 4. Turnovers - Northern 18; Butler 9. Officials - Chris Beaver, Tyler Kumpf, Jon Campbell.