Syracuse's Andy Rautins, right, drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward during the first half of their game in Salt Lake City Thursday night.
Syracuse's Andy Rautins, right, drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward during the first half of their game in Salt Lake City Thursday night. Paul Sakuma/AP
The underdog Butler Bulldogs showed their teeth Thursday night, beating the No. 1 seed Syracuse Orange, 63-59, as play began in the Sweet Sixteen round of the men's NCAA basketball tournament.
In a thrilling nightcap, Kansas State beat Xavier 101-96 in double overtime, surviving a game filled with comebacks and key shots — many of them from well beyond 3-point range.
In other play, No. 1 seed Kentucky hung for a 62-45 victory over tenacious No. 12 seed Cornell, No. 2 seed West Virginia scratched and clawed to a sloppy 69-56 win over No. 11 seed Washington.
Deliberate on offense and determined on defense, Butler held typically high-scoring Syracuse to a single point in the first seven minutes of play, running out to a 12-1 lead early. The Bulldogs led 35-25 at halftime.
Syracuse took the lead back with minutes left in the game, but the Bulldogs, controlling the pace of the game, never faltered.
Butler, playing out of the Horizon League, had made the round of 16 three times in eight years, but this is the school's first appearance in the Elite Eight. If they can beat Kansas State Saturday, they'll go home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
Syracuse — regularly one of the best teams in the country — had shown a vulnerability to the upset in tournaments past.
Mountaineers Defy Key Injury
Meanwhile, West Virginia — which played well all year and won the Big East tournament — beat Washington after losing point guard Darryl Bryant, who broke his foot in practice earlier in the week. The Mountaineers still have standout guard Da'Sean Butler on their side — but he struggled early against the Huskies' quick hands and pressure defense.
Both teams played hard-nosed defense throughout, resulting in more than 20 turnovers for each side — not pretty to watch.
The plucky Huskies had nearly missed the whole shootin' match, clinching a berth in NCAA play only by winning the Pac-10 tournament. But they stormed past two higher-rated opponents before falling to the Mountaineers.
In December, Kansas State beat Xavier rather easily at home. This time, on a neutral court, the Wildcats of the Big 12 had all they could handle and then some from the Musketeers of the Atlantic 10. Xavier overcame an early run of 17 straight points by Kansas State to grab a 32-31 halftime lead.
It was just getting interesting. The teams swapped leads through the second half and two wild overtime sessions.
Terrell Holloway hit three straight free throws at the end of regulation to tie the game, then hit key three-pointers and baskets to keep Xavier alive in the extra periods.
Kentucky Scrapes By
Finally there was Thursday's most intriguing matchup: Kentucky and Cornell. First-year UK coach John Calipari puts an astonishing load of young talent on the floor, with at least three freshmen bound for NBA glory. But the Big Red of Cornell are one of the best shooting teams in the country from beyond the 3-point range and they've humbled two favored opponents rather easily in the first two rounds of the tournament (Temple and Wisconsin).
Cornell ran off to a 10-2 lead as Thursday's game began, but Kentucky's size and strength advantage became obvious as play continued. The Wildcats outscored Cornell 30-6 to close the first half, taking a 32-16 lead.
But Kentucky went cold in the second half and Cornell crept to within six points, 40-34, with about seven minutes left before Kentucky pulled away.
Kentucky will meet West Virginia Saturday for a chance at the Final Four.
Coming Up Friday
Thursday's games were just half the story of the Sweet Sixteen, of course. Friday night brings four more contests: Michigan State-Northern Iowa; Duke-Purdue; Ohio State-Tennessee; and Baylor-Saint Mary's.
The winners of the Friday games will meet on Sunday to determine the last two Final Four berths.