LOUISVILLE — Butler doesn't have any Division I prospects on its roster, and none of its starters stands taller than 6-foot-1.
Yet the Bears completed an improbable journey to the Sweet Sixteen on Monday night when they pulled off a 63-60 overtime win over Iroquois 63-60 in the Sixth Region finals at Bellarmine University.
Butler clinched the region in the same manner it won its semifinal against Bullitt East: by drawing a charge. With the Bears clinging to a 62-60 lead, Iroquois' Earl Wade drove the lane and scored on what appeared to be a game-tying layup. But Butler senior Austin Fuqua stepped in front of Wade as he went up for the basket, and the officials called an offensive foul. Fuqua also drew a charge that wiped out a potential game-winning three-point play in Butler's 62-58 win over Bullitt East on Saturday.
"I saw Austin setting up," Butler Coach Shawn Purlee said. "We told them to spread out, let them penetrate and collapse. Austin's not going to block any shots, but he can step in there and take a charge. You preach it and just hope the refs make the right call."
Despite facing an Iroquois frontline that featured 6-7 Donovan Gibbs, 6-5 Brandon Whitlock and 6-4 Jermaine Jackson, the Bears held their own on the boards, getting outrebounded by only two (32-30).
"It's all about heart," Purlee said. "These guys are winners. We're just a solid, hard-working team. Butler's a South End school in a blue-collar community, and our team reflects that."
The game was close throughout and featured a brilliant, 33-point performance by Jackson, who single-handedly brought the Raiders back from a six-point third-quarter deficit. After Fuqua's three put Butler up 40-34, Jackson hit a free throw, a pair of threes and converted a three-point play to give Iroquois a 44-42 lead at the end of the third.
Butler led 53-50 after Thomas Blakemore's jumper at the one-minute mark, but Jackson tied it up with another three ten seconds later.
"He's just a clutch player," Iroquois Coach Michael Stinnett said. "He loves the game and brought everything he had. I don't think there's any question that he's one of the best juniors in the state."
Jalen Wesson scored four straight points in overtime to put Butler ahead 62-57 with 2:21 left, but Jackson responded with his fourth three of the night to make it a one possession game (62-60) at 2:10.
The Raiders missed on several chances to tie in the final minute, and Blakemore hit one of two free throws after Fuqua drew the charge on Wade.
Sam Tolliver's midcourt heave at the buzzer fell short.
"It was a war out there. Both teams made plays," Stinnett said. "They had guys step up and make big shots who usually don't make those kind of shots."
BUTLER (19-11) — Wesson 5-7 2-2 12, Saunders 2-4 0-0 4, Farrell 0-1 2-2 2, Fuqua 4-5 0-1 12, Stone 3-8 0-0 8, McReynolds 1-1 0-0 3, Butler 1-4 0-0 2, Blakemore 3-11 2-4 8, Allen 4-8 4-4 12. Totals 23-49 10-13 63.
IROQUOIS (22-9) — Jackson 10-20 9-10 33, Kemp 1-1 0-0 2, Wade 1-3 0-0 2, S. Gibbs 0-3 0-0 0, Tolliver 2-10 2-2 6, Whitlock 1-7 3-6 5, D. Gibbs 4-7 4-4 12. Totals 19-51 18-22 60.
Butler 18 14 10 11 10—63
Iroquois 17 13 14 9 7—60