Butler is only D-I team to go undefeated in conference

IDNIANAPOLIS -- Win or lose the Horizon League championship game, Butler was headed to the NCAA tournament.

Still, the 12th-ranked Bulldogs felt something was missing from their resume. On Tuesday night, they finally got the title and the ticket they so desperately craved.

A year after being upset on its home court in the conference title game, Butler blew out second-seeded Wright State 70-45 to claim its fourth straight NCAA bid.

"We didn't want that same feeling going into the tournament or think that maybe you have to get some help or something to be in the tournament," tourney MVP Matt Howard said. "We didn't want to have to deal with that at all. We wanted to get this done."

No worries this time.

The game was every bit as one-sided as Butler (28-4) made the conference season -- to the glee of bubble teams everywhere.

The Bulldogs extended the nation's longest winning streak to 20 games and head into NCAA play as the only Division I team to complete a perfect conference season. They went 20-0 against league foes, including the two tourney games. They won the regular-season crown by a record six games and were still reaching milestones Tuesday night.

By completing a perfect 15-0 home season, Butler matched Xavier's conference mark for most league tourney titles (six) and Detroit's record for most tournament victories (28). If not for Wright State's two free throws with 3.8 seconds left, the Bulldogs would have had the widest victory margin in a championship game, too. For now, it's a record that still belongs to Xavier, which beat Detroit 122-96 in 1988.

Howard, last season's Horizon League player of the year, had 14 points and nine rebounds. Shelvin Mack scored all 14 of his points, including four 3-pointers, in the first half. Zach Hahn came off the bench to score 11 points, and Gordon Hayward, this season's conference player of the year, had eight points and four rebounds.

The game was so lopsided coach Brad Stevens allowed only one Butler player to log more than 30 minutes, and the final 15 minutes felt more like a coronation than a celebration.

It was exactly how Butler envisioned finishing this season after spending the past 12 months reliving those agonizing memories from the Cleveland State game.

"That's something that's going to be sticking with me for the rest of my career," Ronald Nored said of last year's loss. "It kind of fueled what we have going now and it makes this even better."

Wright State (20-12) never had a chance against the motivated Bulldogs.

Only one player, N'Gai Evans reached double figures. He had 13 points. Todd Brown, who is in Wright State's 1,000-point club, was shut out.

How bad was it?

"I apologize we didn't play better," Raiders coach Brad Brownell said. "We're a better team than we showed tonight, but certainly Butler was playing at a high level. Any time you get behind against them, it's really hard and makes it really challenging for you to come back."

Butler took charge right from the start.

The Bulldogs set the tone in the first three minutes when Mack opened the game with two straight 3-pointers and Howard followed that with a three-point play.

Mack's third 3 gave Butler a 17-9 lead just eight minutes into the game, and the Bulldogs extended the halftime to margin to 42-28. Butler's eight 3s coupled with Howard's two three-point plays in the first half accounted for 30 points.

And the Bulldogs were only getting started.

They made it 51-30 when Hahn hit a 3 with 15:35 left in the game, and then cranked up the defensive pressure.

Game over.

Wright State scored only 17 points in the final 20 minutes, not nearly enough to prevent Butler from taking the conference's automatic NCAA bid. Or causing headaches for their next opponent.

"One of the things that's neat about this run is that they've brought it every single night and in games where, quite frankly, people would really get on them if they lost and they don't care," Stevens said after high-fiving his players. "These guys just believe in doing the right things."