In the last fraction of a second of a very long day, finally there was some favor on a favorite. West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler, battling the clock, an urgent Cincinnati defense and a day filled with bad news for top seeds, made a desperate, tumbling three-point bank shot at the buzzer.
That not only gave West Virginia a 54-51 win, it saved the day for the seeding process. The Mountaineers, having earned a two-day bye, did what the other three double-bye seeds had failed to do. They survived their first game. Barely.
Cincinnati tied it on Lance Stephenson's three-pointer with 42.1 seconds left, giving the freshman from Brooklyn 19 points. West Virginia failed to get off an attempt before the shot clock expired, giving Cincinnati a chance to make it four upsets. But Dion Dixon turned it over in the backcourt with 3.1 seconds left.
A hurried in-bound sequence put the ball in Butler's hands at the top of the three-point circle, with Stephenson's hand in his face. Butler delivered - for his team and for the good name of Big East favorites.
"Honestly, I was supposed to just catch the ball and take a couple dribbles inside the three-point line," said Butler (15 points). "He pressured up on me and I kind of lost my balance. When I saw it hit the glass, I felt more confident."
Losses by the other top seeds suggested that the two-round bye detracts more with inactivity than it adds with the opportunity to rest and practice. "We definitely saw that," said Kevin Jones, West Virginia's high scorer with 17 points. "We didn't want to end up like those guys."
West Virginia had to wait the longest to join the party, with the opening tap at 9:30 last night. Two hours later, another favorite was in danger of becoming yet another supplanted seed. The danger was avoided with a bank at the buzzer. "That," Butler said, "was cool."