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Butler Knocks UTEP Out Of NCAA Tournament

By GREG BEACHAM / AP Sports Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Shelvin Mack’s second-half surge helped Butler to keep the nation’s longest winning streak intact.

Mack hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored 18 of his 25 points after halftime Thursday, leading fifth-seeded Butler to a 77-59 victory over UTEP in the first round of the NCAA tournament’s West Regional.

“It’s a great opportunity to do it on this stage,” Mack said. “You’ve got to knock it down like it’s open gym.”

Gordon Hayward added 13 points and Matt Howard had 11 as the Bulldogs (29-4) won their 21st straight game to extend the sport’s longest active winning streak – but only after a dynamic rally from a six-point halftime deficit.

The Miners (26-7) were a popular NCAA upset pick after the Conference USA power received a surprisingly low seed in the tournament. Instead, the Bulldogs made a 22-4 run after halftime led by Mack, who hit five 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes.

Butler advanced to face 13th-seeded Murray State, which surprised Vanderbilt 66-65 on a buzzer-beater by Danero Thomas.

Derrick Caracter had 20 points and nine rebounds for UTEP, which won 16 straight games and a league title before a tournament loss to Houston last Saturday. Randy Culpepper added 16 points, but the Miners’ defense couldn’t stop the patient outside shooting of the Bulldogs, who advanced in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.

Butler, which hit 10 of its 13 3-pointers after halftime, has the longest winning streak in Division I this season. The Bulldogs made a perfect run through the Horizon League, winning every conference game before also winning the tournament to capture a No. 5 seed in the NCAAs, matching the highest in school history.

UTEP was nearly as impressive during its run through Conference USA, with Caracter and league player of the year Randy Culpepper largely dominating. But the Miners lost the tournament title game last Saturday, and coach Tony Barbee acknowledged being mystified by their low seed.

While the Miners talked about respect, Butler went out and claimed it – just as these Bulldogs have been doing for decades.

Butler immediately took control after halftime, with Mack hitting two 3-pointers in the first 90 seconds. The Bulldogs took the lead on a 3-pointer by Veasley, and after UTEP briefly went back ahead 37-36, Veasley’s free throw started Butler on its decisive 13-0 run.

Culpepper also went down hard twice in the second half on collisions under the basket, getting up gingerly both times.

The Shark Tank was still hopping with energy from the Racers’ upset of Vandy when Butler and UTEP took the court. Butler didn’t repeat the mistakes of last year’s trip to the tournament, in which the Bulldogs fell behind 9-0 in a first-round loss to LSU, but UTEP still went ahead 17-10 midway through the first half.

Butler, which has all five starters back from last season’s tournament team, reclaimed the lead with nine consecutive points, but the Miners went back ahead with strong inside play from Caracter.

The 275-pound Louisville transfer with a bushy mohawk scored 12 points – including a layup that dropped in just before the halftime buzzer, while leading UTEP to a 33-27 lead.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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