INDIANAPOLIS - As the final seconds slipped away, it began to look as if Butler's impossible dream was headed for a nightmare finish.
The Bulldogs, from the tiny school less than six miles north of Lucas Oil Stadium, brought a Hoosier-dominated crowd of 71,300 to the verge of hysteria by taking a seven-point second-half lead over Big Ten giant Michigan State in a national semifinal last night.
But what fairy tale possibly could include a 15-for-49 shooting performance - and a span of 10:42 between field goals after taking that lead - and still have a happy ending? As it turns out, this one.
You could call it "fate" that the Bulldogs found a way to pull out a 52-50 victory that put them in the national championship game Monday night against Duke, a 78-57 winner over West Virginia in the other semifinal. Or, if you take the view Spartans coach Tom Izzo did, you could say "fate" was wearing striped shirts and carrying whistles.
But no matter how you look at it, this fairy tale has one more chapter. Butler (33-4) did just enough to extend its winning streak to 25 games. The game ended when State's Korie Lucious intentionally missed his second foul shot with two seconds left and Gordon Hayward ripped down the rebound.
"It's exciting," said Hayward, who had 19 points and nine rebounds. "We've been talking about the next game all year, and it's great to say the next game is for the national championship."
Butler shot only 30.6 percent for the game, 24 percent in the second half, and lost Shelvin Mack (14 points) to leg cramps and Matt Howard to a possible concussion. But the Bulldogs got into the double-bonus situation at the foul line with more than nine minutes to play.
Izzo said he was "ticked" about some of the calls, especially a couple of late ones. He said the early fouls in the second half that put Raymar Morgan on the bench upset his team. "That's immaturity on my part," he said.
In the second half, Butler went on a 16-6 run to take charge at 44-37 on a layup by Willie Veasley with 12:18 left. The Bulldogs didn't make another field goal until 1:36 remained. Hayward missed from the corner but Shawn Vanzant got the offensive rebound and passed to Hayward before landing out of bounds, and Hayward's layup gave Butler a 50-46 lead.
"Shawn flew in from out of nowhere and got it right to me," Hayward said. "It was an excellent hustle play."
Durrell Summers, who topped Michigan State with 14 points, made a foul shot at 1:18, and Draymond Green (12 points) made two more with 56.5 seconds left to cut it to 50-49. The Spartans (28-9) had a chance to regain the lead on a shot by Green that Hayward contested and Butler's Ronald Nored rebounded before getting fouled with 6.1 seconds to go. "I don't know if I got a piece of the ball or maybe his arm," Hayward said sheepishly.
Nored, who had been 3-for-12 from the free-throw line in the tournament, drained both for a 52-49 lead. "One thing about us is there's never a sense of fear," Nored said. "If we didn't score again and they didn't score again, we won the game."