The first of four NCAA Big Dance games at the Verizon Center turned out to be a thriller.
Eighth-seeded Butler defeated ninth-seeded Old Dominion 60-50 on forward Matt Howard’s buzzer beater. Until that basket, Howard was tied at 15 points with Shelvin Mack as the Bulldogs’ leading scorers. Of the final play of the game, Howard said, “I think a lot of credit has got to go to [center] Andrew [Smith]. He made a great play keeping it alive. And my guy, I think, went with him on that jump. And it’s pretty easy when it’s just you and the ball and the rim. Throw it in.”
Butler shot 40.7 percent while Old Dominion shot 35.6. Both teams had a total of 15 turnovers. Butler is going to play the number-one-seed Pittsburgh on Saturday. Time of the game is TBA.
In the second game of the day, 16th-seed UNC-Asheville faced off against Pittsburgh. At halftime Pitt led 30-25, but in the second half it was all Pitt. They won 74-51. After the game, YDC asked Pittsburgh’s head coach Jamie Dixon why their second half was so much stronger than their first. He replied, “We had a decent lead in the first half and a couple of turnovers brought it back. They’re a good team. They took advantage of those opportunities. A couple press situations we didn’t handle as well as I would have thought. But I think we really just missed some open shots early some finishes around the rim on some offensive rebounds, and then some open threes.”
Pittsburgh shot much better from the field than UNC-Asheville, 42.4 percent over 30.9. Ashton Gibbs of Pittsburgh led all scorers with 26 points.
Verizon Center attendance Thursday afternoon was 17, 578.