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Graves shoots Butler to NIT championship

Nov 25, 2006 - 2:25 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- A.J. Graves and Julian Betko just may have shot Butler back into the national rankings.

The guards combined for 21 points and five 3-pointers in the first half as the Bulldogs jumped out early and knocked off No. 23 Gonzaga, 79-71, in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

Mike Green added 16 points and five assists for Butler (6-0), which has not been ranked since 2002 but should be back in the rankings Monday.

"We don't really have any expectations," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. "The game's played on the court and I think it's a lot of fun. It's so nice that there's so many interested people and people that rate and project. It's just the greatest game in my opinion. But whether they rate us or not rate us, we'll play tomorrow and we want to play better tommorow."

The Bulldogs knocked off Notre Dame, Indiana and 22nd-ranked Tennessee to reach the title matchup.

"One thing, I think as a group, as a team, we'll have to realize that we are not going to be overlooked anymore," Betko said. "Probably people are going to be coming after us."

Graves finished with a career-high 26 points on 7-of-17 shooting and was named tournament MVP. He finished just 4-of-13 from the arc but made all eight free throws to remain perfect from the stripe this season.

"It's nice to get honored. It's nice to get some press," Graves said. "But other than that, we're going to play tomorrow, we're going to play the next day and we're just going to keep moving on and see where we can go."

Gonzaga shot 50 percent (24-of-48) and held a 33-28 edge on the glass, but could not overcome 16 turnovers and 12 3-pointers by Butler, which turned it over just seven times and shot 23-of-26 from the line.

"They outplayed us in every facet that I can possibly think of," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "They definitely deserved to win that game. They executed better offensively, played harder on defense and played tougher than us inside. They did a great job of giving the right people the right shots."

Behind 9-of-21 shooting from the arc and just two turnovers, Butler led, 43-29, at the half. Gonzaga made a late run, cutting its deficit to 67-60 with two minutes left on a three-point play by Derek Raivio, but could not get any closer.

Gonzaga (5-1), which beat No. 2 North Carolina, 82-74, in Wednesday's semifinal, was in trouble right off the bat when center Josh Heytveldt, who had 19 points and eight rebounds against the Tar Heels, went to the bench with two fouls just two minutes in.

"The two fouls took me out of the game," Heytvelt said. "But it didn't change my mind-set at all. It was a different game than the North Carolina game after that happened. Butler did a great job on defense and offense. Butler just came out firing and they beat us."

Raivio scored 20 points and Heytveldt added 16 for Gonzaga, which was 4-of-15 from the 3-point line.

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