Championship rings don’t just get handed out to anyone.
Ask Butler, they know.
The Bulldogs lost in the National Championship game in consecutive seasons, once by a last second shot, once by a blowout. Neither was any less painful.
But, through those losses, the program has also learned resiliency and it was on display Saturday during their comeback win against Purdue.
“It’s hard work and I think that’s something these guys are learning,” said Captain Ronald Nored.
The night before, the Bulldogs received their Final Four rings for last year’s run through the NCAA tournament. Eight months ago, they dreamed of owning the rings Connecticut is wearing, but their jewelry still serves a purpose, two in fact.
It is a message to Butler’s young players of what can be achieved through concentration and determination and a reminder to the veterans that even with all the effort that was exerted, you have to do even more to become the best.
“I think that is something that is so far down the road, so hard to achieve, not being in the final, but even being in the tournament, and it requires daily improvement,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens.
Butler showed against the Boilermakers that improvements are being made.
Down 15 late in the first half, the Bulldogs started to chip away. They cut the deficit to eleven at halftime and to four with 10:28 to play. After Kameron Wood’s layup brought the game to 58-54, Purdue went on a quick 5-0 run and pushed the lead back to nine on a Terone Johnson layup with 8:48 remaining. That was the last field goal the Boilers made.
Butler closed the game on a 13-7 run, capped off by Andrew Smith’s game winning tip-in with one second left.
“We had a great gameplan coming into the game. The coaches always do a great job with that and we kind of got away from it in the first half,” said Smith. “We refocused and were able to get more defensive pressure (in the second half).”
Purdue (9-3) now has to prove its resiliency. The team has squandered double-digits leads in two losses this year. If they hope to get on a run similar to Butler’s the past two seasons, they need to show their ability to rebound from setbacks.
“(We have to) keep our heads up,” said Boilermakers guard Lewis Jackson. “It sucks. It’s going to suck for a while, but obviously we don’t get a trophy for the non-conference and we can take this into the Big Ten season, so if we get back in this situation we can handle it and get a win.”
Nored said Butler’s rings prove that learning from obstacles prepare you for future challenges. The senior didn’t bring his ring with him to the game against Purdue. But, said his team’s play Saturday represented what the ring stands for.
“I think sometimes, human nature, you take that for granted,” he said. “Coming into this year, we possibly could have taken that for granted and I think we are seeing here that it takes so much work. It takes so much mental toughness, so much togetherness to go out there and play together and achieve and I think all the guys in the locker room, that’s what we want to achieve again.”