WASHINGTON – There were two held balls and an out-of-bounds traveling call in the final 10 seconds. A ranked team nearly blew a 17-point lead against a team that starts four freshmen. At one point, the officials – who had to use a sub after a first-half injury – forgot that a free throw was the front end of a 1-and-1.
Such were the oddities of No. 14 Butler’s first trip to the Smith Center as the Bulldogs make their inaugural tour of unfamiliar hostile environments in the school’s first Atlantic 10 season.
Butler held on for a 59-56 win over George Washington on Saturday, despite going the final 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal. The arena’s first sellout crowd since 2006 nearly willed the Colonials to victory against the new kid with the target on his back.
Five straight places that have been absolutely jumping, Butler coach Brad Stevens said. You have to find a way to be tough. You have to find a way to stay together. Nothing builds team like that kind of environment. I really like it.
The Bulldogs (20-4, 7-2 A-10) built enough of a cushion to withstand GW’s feisty comeback. Butler led 48-31 with 12 minutes to play, but the Colonials’ press and Roosevelt Jones’ poor free throw shooting – he went 2 for 9 from the line, all in the second half – helped get the Colonials back into the game.
After Joe McDonald cut the lead to five with a free throw with 1:34 left, Jones was fouled and missed two more at the line. Lasan Kromah’s tip-in made it 57-54 with 52 seconds to play. McDonald made a steal in the backcourt and was fouled. He made both free throws, and it was 57-56 with 44 ticks left.
Kellen Dunham made two free throws with 24 seconds to go to restore Butler’s three-point lead. With a chance to tie, McDonald missed a three-pointer, and a held ball on the rebound with nine seconds left gave possession to Butler. But Jones was called for traveling on the baseline before throwing the ball inbounds.
Nemanja Mikic missed another three for the Colonials, and another held ball gave the ball to George Washington. McDonald was then stripped in a crowd as he went up for the final shot.