CINCINNATI (AP) - No matter how close or how ugly, Xavier keeps pulling them out at home.
Mark Lyons made two free throws with 3.4 seconds left, and Xavier held on to beat Butler 51-49 Thursday night, extending its home-court winning streak to 28 games, the second-longest in the nation. It also matches the best such streak in school history.
The Musketeers (6-2) haven't lost at the Cintas Center since Butler (4-4) pulled off an upset two years ago. The Bulldogs had a chance to end the streak in the final minute after overcoming a 10-point deficit, but couldn't make a free throw or a final 3-pointer.
That's how it's gone this season at the Cintas Center, where Xavier has pulled out two games in overtime and now this one.
``We just play really well here,' said Kenny Frease, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. ``When it comes down to it, we just have extra energy in this building. In the last minute, we don't feel fatigue.'
Instead, Butler flinched.
Ronald Nored missed a pair of free throws with 32.2 seconds to go and the score tied. Then, he fouled Lyons on an inbound play under Xavier's basket, setting up the go-ahead free throws.
Lyons was having a horrid shooting night, going 1 for 10 from the field when he stepped to the line.
``I'm sure he was battling those shooting demons, but he stepped up to the line and made them both,' coach Chris Mack said.
Butler's Shelvin Mack missed a 3 at the buzzer, allowing Xavier to stay perfect at home over the last three seasons. Matt Howard had 17 points for Butler.
``There were a lot of plays where we could have taken better care of things,' Howard said. ``It was just at the end. It's been three really good games between these two programs.'
Neither team could make a shot - open or otherwise - for most of the game. Xavier shot 32 percent from the field, Butler 31 percent. The Bulldogs went 13:15 without a field goal in the first half, but never trailed by more than 10.
``Down 10 in an environment like this, your team can go one of two ways,' coach Brad Stevens said. ``You can let it get away, or you can stay and fight and make it a game. That's what our guys did.'
Appropriately, it was decided by two free throws and a missed shot in the closing seconds. Xavier came away with its lowest point total in a victory since it beat Cincinnati 50-44 on Dec. 7, 2002.
Both teams have struggled offensively after losing their top players to the NBA. Butler's Gordon Hayward and Cincinnati's Jordan Crawford led their teams deep into the NCAA tournament - the Bulldogs reached the title game before losing to Duke.
Butler hasn't been able to replace Hayward's productivity during a nasty early schedule - four games against NCAA tournament teams so far, all away from home. Xavier, too, has struggled to get a consistent offense without Crawford.
The teams separated by a two-hour drive also share a long history. When they've gotten together lately, they've had memorable finishes.
The Bulldogs got a springboard victory in Cincinnati on Dec. 23, 2008. They knocked off the 14th-rated Musketeers 62-59 with a lineup featuring three freshmen and a sophomore who would soon become famous.
Their rematch at Hinkle Fieldhouse last season is remembered for a clock snafu. The Bulldogs won a disputed 69-68 victory when Hayward got a loose ball and made a layup with 1.2 seconds left. After a 13-minute review, the officials decided there was a problem with the clock, the basket counted and there was no time left.
``That game from last year has been on our minds,' Lyons said.
Butler's visit brought out the most raucous crowd of the season, wearing white shirts draped over each of the 10,250 seats. The Bulldogs settled in right away, hitting their first five shots - including back-to-back 3s by Howard and Mack - for a 12-5 lead.
The Bulldogs missed their next 13 shots. Still, Xavier couldn't pull ahead by more than 10.
Butler's troubles worsened 58 seconds into the second half, when Howard picked up his third foul. He stayed in the game and Frease - a 7-foot center - took the ball at him. Frease's dunk over Howard made it 41-31 midway through the half.
Howard's two free throws and his 3-pointer cut it to 45-44 with 3:49 left. Andrew Smith's three-point play tied it at 49, setting up the wild finish.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved