SALT LAKE CITY -- Butler became the latest mid-major team to knock off a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Willie Veasley scored five of his 13 points during an 11-0 run down the stretch, and the Bulldogs rallied to upset No. 1 seed Syracuse 63-59 on Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals for their 23rd straight victory.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs (31-4) fought through Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense and kept the Orange (30-5) from getting their fast break going most of the night.
Now, after reaching the regional finals for the first time in school history, Butler is one win from going home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
Gordon Hayward scored 17 points and started the celebration while dribbling out the clock after the Bulldogs forced Syracuse into its 18th turnover.
There were some mild boos — but not as many as you’d think — when the score was announced at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., where West Virginia beat Washington in the East Regional semifinals.
Most of the Orange fans were probably off watching the game at a local watering hole or in front of a high-def TV. And Cornell and Kentucky fans didn’t really care that much to boo yet another surprising result in this NCAA tournament.
Scoop Jardine added 14 points and five assists and Andy Rautins scored 15, including a 3-pointer to open the second half. That sent the Orange on a 15-4 run that gave them their first lead.
But the sloppy Orange couldn’t overcome all their turnovers, and the 2-3 zone that so many wondered whether Butler could crack was no match for the Bulldogs’ sharp shooting in the final minutes after Syracuse had taken a 54-50 lead with 5:23 left.
Ronald Nored hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one, Matt Howard scored inside to put the Bulldogs back ahead and then Veasley got a fortunate bounce off the rim and backboard before his 3-pointer finally dropped through to put Butler up 58-54.
Veasley added a tip-in on Butler’s next possession, and the Bulldogs held on.
After leading by 12 in the first half, the Horizon League champions were in jeopardy of getting run over by the Orange as they recovered from a frustrating start. But Syracuse could never get its transition game going and the easy baskets weren’t there, thanks to the Bulldogs.
Butler was just 6 for 24 from 3-point range, but the Bulldogs never stopped shooting from beyond the arc — and hustling back on defense.
Syracuse had one good break late in the second half and it turned out to be the last. After a 3-pointer by Rautins put his team up 52-50, Johnson grabbed a defensive rebound and got the Orange off and running on the kind of fast break they flashed all season before getting stymied by Butler through the first 34 minutes.
Johnson passed to Jardine, who got the ball down low to Kris Joseph for a dunk that put Syracuse up 54-50 with 5:23 left.
The Orange didn’t score again until Jardine’s layup with 35 seconds remaining cut Butler’s lead to 61-56.
Syracuse played again without center Arinze Onuaku, sidelined since the Big East tournament with a right quadriceps injury, and had to sit 6-foot-9 Rick Jackson when he was called for his fourth foul with 8:08 left.
Jackson finished with just four points, but did pull down nine rebounds.
Syracuse’s loss left No. 2 seed West Virginia as the only Big East team remaining in the tournament. The league received eight bids — most of any conference.