INDIANAPOLIS, IN—It wasn't your average day at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
First of all, the normally loud, yet not always packed Hinkle Fieldhouse stands were full. Saturday's match-up with Loyola had been sold out for over a week.
Early in the first-half during a casual conversation at press row, Butler Sports Information Director Jim McGrath told me he didn't know if Brad Stevens would make it through the game.
I thought this was very odd since Stevens wasn't likely to take an elbow to the head like Matt Howard did a few weeks ago. McGrath said Stevens woke up today with major eye irritation and could hardly see. I noticed the coaches glasses during pre-game warm-ups, then later in the first half I watched as Matthew Graves was calling the shots from the sidelines.
"Brad (Stevens) gave me a little bit of prep before the game and said his eye was really bothering him so he said, be prepared," admitted assistant coach Matthew Graves after the game.
Graves coached the entire second half while Stevens was getting treatment for corneal edema by Butler's team eye Dr. John Abrams.
Later Saturday night Stevens issued a statement about his condition.
"Right now, I can't see and my eye feels like it has a thousand scratches," said Stevens from his home. "My vision got progressively worse as we were getting ready to start the game, and by the final media timeout of the first half, I could not see the other end of the court and everything in front of me was blurry."
Despite Stevens' absence, Butler made the coaching staff and home fans proud by beating Loyola 63-56.
The win was significant in that it clinched a fourth consecutive regular season Horizon League championship for the second-winningest class in school history.
"That's special, working hard and it paid off," said senior Shawn Vanzant who scored 10 points in his final regular season home game.
A large contingent of fans came to Hinkle Fieldhouse to pay tribute to the 2011 senior class and more specifically to Matt Howard, one of the gutsiest and most successful Bulldogs ever.
"I'm very appreciative of everyone that came. There is no doubt that all of those people from Connersville were a big reason why (game was a sellout) and I can't put into words how much I appreciate everyone doing that," said Howard who scored nine points and pulled down seven rebounds.
Shelvin Mack led all scorers with 18 points while Chase Stigall also hit double-figures scoring 10 points, all in the second half.
Butler's win earns them a tie for first place in the Horizon League standings, they'll be the #2 seed in the conference tournament and play next Saturday night at six o'clock in Milwaukee against an opponent which won't be determined until Friday night's quarterfinals.
Despite a game and season filled with some adversity, Butler (21-9, 13-5) appears to be coming together at just the right time. The Bulldogs take a seven-game winning streak into the post-season.