Late Butler star Joel Cornette famously stated “We’re still here,” during the Bulldogs’ 2003 NCAA Tournament run. Coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged it after this year’s squad beat Middle Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16.
MILWAUKEE — Andrew Chrabascz found himself alone at the 3-point line, just left of straight on. Middle Tennessee, NCAA Tournament darling and the trendy pick Saturday night, had just cut Butler’s lead to three and had momentum on its side.
Chrabascz made one 3-pointer over his previous six games combined. He didn’t even attempt one in the Bulldogs’ first-round win over Winthrop. But there he was, all by himself.
Chrabascz didn’t think twice when he got the ball from Tyler Lewis. He eyed the rim, rose up and drained it. He hopped and shouted and celebrated. It was a dagger, and he knew it. Butler fended off the pesky Blue Raiders for a 74-65 victory and is heading to the Sweet 16 for the first time since playing in its second straight national title game in 2011.
No, this isn’t like Butler teams of old – a lower seed from a mid-major conference surprising everyone with deep NCAA Tournament runs – but the accomplishment doesn’t lose significance. If anything, the Bulldogs relish in the history and realize how far the program has come.
Chris Holtmann certainly does. He wasn’t around in 2003 when Butler reached the Sweet 16 and star Joel Cornette made a blunt statement that still resonates within the Bulldogs’ community. Cornette sadly passed away in August at age 35.
“Like the late Joel Cornette said – We’re still here,” Holtmann said at the postgame press conference.
Chrabascz made sure of it. He finished with 15 points while hitting 6 of 12 from the field. That calm 3-pointer might’ve carried the most significance, but he did most of his damage around the hoop. Chrabascz scored six of the Bulldogs’ first eight points of the second half and frustrated Middle Tennessee forward Reggie Upshaw.
“People finding me in open areas, coaches making great calls,” Chrabascz said of his hot stretch. “I mean, when they find me in the sweet spot, I have to be aggressive.”
Give credit to Kelan Martin, too. He scored a team-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting while draining three 3-pointers off the bench. Martin has been coming off the bench since Feb. 7 and has embraced the role, averaging 17.9 points while shooting 51.6 percent from the field over his last eight games.
“I think I’ve been doing that coming off the bench since February – just bringing energy to the game,” Martin said. “That’s why we’ve been advancing.”
Kamar Baldwin, the defensive stopper who shut down Winthrop’s Keon Johnson and held Giddy Potts scorelesss Saturday, added 13 points and drained a couple of 3s, too.
“It was a great team effort,” Baldwin said. “It took the whole unit to keep those guys in check. We were able to do that both games.”
Yep. And that’s why they’re still here.