MILWAUKEE (AP) — Kelan Martin scored 19 points, and Butler limited Middle Tennessee’s athletic scorers with smothering defense in a 74-65 victory Saturday night to advance to the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals.
The Bulldogs (25-8) are going to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011, when they wrapped up back-to-back appearances in the national title game.
Andrew Chrabascz added 15 points for fourth-seeded Butler, including a 3 with 3:25 left that snapped a 7-0 run for Middle Tennessee to get the lead back to 62-56.
The senior forward played an even more important role in leading a sterling defensive effort for the Bulldogs.
Conference USA player of the year JaCorey Williams finished with 20 points, but had to work hard for nearly every bucket for No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee (31-5).
Giddy Potts, who averaged nearly 16 points a game this year, was held scoreless, going 0 of 8 from the field.
Two turnovers in the final 43 seconds ended a frustrating night for Middle Tennessee. Senior Reggie Upshaw, playing his final college game, paused briefly before heading down the tunnel, appearing to wipe tears from his face.
Antwain Johnson had a career-high 19 points off the bench for the Blue Raiders.
But the team failed to advance to the Sweet 16 for a second straight year after beating a Big Ten team each season. A win over Butler would have elevated their reputation as a rising mid-major school, similar to how the Bulldogs emerged to prominence earlier this decade with two trips to the national title game.
Instead, Butler gets another shot to get back to the Final Four.
Another strong effort from the 3-point line lifted Butler on the offensive end, with Martin going 3 of 6 from behind the arc. Butler finished 8 of 15 (53 percent) from 3-point range after shooting 8 of 19 (42 percent) in the first round against Winthrop.
Middle Tennessee: Coach Kermit Davis team will lose seniors Williams and Upshaw, 6-foot-8 versatile forwards who play key roles in the team’s 1-3-1 pressure defense. But the Blue Raiders have established themselves as a dangerous mid-major team after beating Michigan State and Minnesota in the first round in back-to-back years in the tournament.
Butler: The 6-7 Chrabascz and 6-8 Tyler Wideman, the starting forwards, each sat for much of the latter part of the first half with foul trouble. They were on the bench when Middle Tennessee cut a 13-point lead with 4:28 to get to 36-31 at halftime, a spurt highlighted by six straight points by the athletic Williams during the run.
Butler advanced to the South Regional semifinal on March 24 in Memphis against either North Carolina or Arkansas.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Follow Genaro Armas at: https://twitter.com/GArmasAP