Butler's Mack calm early, clutch late in 24-point performance

Butler star's 24 points include5 of 6 threes

mfields@herald-leader.comApril 3, 2011 

HOUSTON — As the Final Four hoopla was building to a pre-game crescendo, Shelvin Mack stifled a big yawn on the Butler sideline.

When CBS-TV's Jim Nantz called his name in introductions, Mack trotted onto the court, gave the Bulldogs' bulldog mascot a pat on the head, then went to work like it was any other day in the gym.

On college basketball's biggest stage — the NCAA Tournament semifinals played in Reliant Stadium in front of 75,421 fans Saturday night — Mack seemed to be nerveless from start to finish while leading Butler to a 70-62 victory and a second consecutive trip to the national title game Monday.

The former Bryan Station star nailed a three-pointer 29 seconds after tip-off, and he had his shooting eye the rest of the night. He finished with 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 5-for-6 on threes.

The 6-foot-3 junior also had six rebounds and one huge assist down the stretch.

"I was calm inside, just having a blast and enjoying myself," Mack said after Butler's 14th win in a row.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart called Mack "a killer" the way he lit up the Rams.

"We talked about taking away his three-point looks, and he was 5-for-6," Smart said wryly.

Mack burned VCU freshman Rod Brandenburg on three of those bombs.

"Rod was there with a hand up, but he wasn't there enough," Smart said. "When you play against a high-level player like Mack, you've gotta be tighter and closer.

"He's as good a college basketball player as any guard in the Final Four.

"You know some of the guys from UConn and Kentucky, they talk about their pro projections and all that stuff. But I'd take Shelvin Mack on my team as quickly as any other guards that have played in this tournament."

Mack was the only Butler player to shoot well in the first half. He hit four of five shots, including three threes. The rest of the Bulldogs were only 6-for-25.

After resting for five minutes midway through the half, Mack re-entered the game and helped rally Butler from a 20-15 deficit with a pair of threes, the second one putting the Bulldogs in front 25-24.

Butler rode that momentum to a 34-28 halftime lead.

After VCU opened the second half with a 7-0 run that gave it a 35-34 lead, Butler Coach Brad Stevens sat Mack for a four-minute stretch.

When Mack got back on the floor, it didn't take long for him to help fuel a decisive surge by Butler.

With the Bulldogs up 44-43, Mack scored his team's next 10 points — a pair of threes, a driving layup and a pull-up 15-footer — that stretched Butler's lead to 54-45.

Mack's one assist came with less than three minutes left after VCU had closed to within 58-54. On the dribble, Mack appeared to be looking for a shot. But as he got into the top of the key with the shot clock winding down, he whipped a pass to Shawn Vanzant in the left corner.

Vanzant drilled the three.

"That was the right basketball play to make — hit the open guy," Mack said.

Matt Howard, Butler's 6-8 senior who had 17 points and eight rebounds, wasn't surprised by Mack's performance.

"Shelvin's an incredible basketball player," Howard said. "He has a will and determination that's unlike some other guys.

"Many times this season he's carried this basketball team, and that's while still playing within our offense. He's just a great player, and you saw that again tonight."

Before the game, one of Mack's teammates told him he had heard that VCU's Ed Nixon was saying Mack wasn't as good as some other guards he had faced in the tournament.

"I knew he was lying, but it still motivated me," Mack said with a laugh.

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