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Graves, Butler barely beat Maryland to get to regional semis

Mar 18, 2007 - 8:41 AM BUFFALO, New York (Ticker) -- A.J. Graves shot Butler into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Graves scored 19 points and made a key 3-pointer down the stretch as fifth-seeded Butler held on for a 62-59 victory over fourth seed Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Region.

With the win, Butler (29-6) set a school and Horizon League record for victories in a single season.

"I respect the way our team plays," Bulldogs coach Todd Lickliter said. "They play together, they play to one another's strengths. They didn't lose confidence. I'm very proud of them. I'm just thankful we can be together awhile longer."

But more importantly, Butler advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003, when Graves was a high school junior.

"It was tough in the second half, but we just tried to take care of the ball and shoot the shots that we wanted to shoot," said Graves, who finished 7-of-19 from the floor but made four 3-pointers. "I'm just thankful we just made enough plays down the stretch."

Now a junior at Butler, the 6-1 Graves scored 10 points after the break and gave the Bulldogs breathing room when it mattered most, drilling a 3-pointer to make it 61-56 with 2:11 remaining.

Maryland cut its deficit to 61-59 and had a chance to regain possession in the waning seconds when Butler's Julian Betko took a feed from Graves but missed an open 3-pointer.

"You have to play through it," said Graves, who passed up a shot near the basket. "When you get the ball back you have to keep moving. I did that. I found (Betko) at the end. We made some plays there and got a win."

But guard Mike Green grabbed the offensive rebound and made 1-of-2 free throws, giving the Bulldogs a 62-59 edge with four seconds left.

"It's mine and (Graves') job to go and clean up," the 6-1 Green said. "I was just in the right place at the right time. (Lickliter) was yelling at me to get back. I rebounded, and it worked out."

After Green missed the second free throw, Maryland gave the ball to D.J. Strawberry, who tried to move up court before Butler's Brandon Crone knocked the ball out of bounds with six-tenths of a second remaining.

The Terrapins threw a desperation inbounds pass to Mike Jones, who fumbled the ball and failed to get off a shot before the buzzer sounded.

"It was a good pass, I just fumbled the ball a little bit," Jones said. "I think I was more about the shot than catching the ball. Things like that happen when you're in a clutch position."

Crone chipped in 13 points for the Bulldogs, who will face either top seed Florida or ninth-seeded Purdue next Friday in the regional semifinals.

"I think we proved we can play with anybody," Crone said. "We're still a mid-major. We played a heck of a team today."

Jones scored 21 points to pace Maryland (25-9), which enjoyed a 36-21 edge on the glass.

"I'm proud of Mike and the rest of our veteran players," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "We had to work really hard to be sure that we would make the NCAA Tournament after coming off two years not being in it."

James Gist scored 13 points and grabbed eight boards while fellow forward Ekene Ibekwe hauled in nine rebounds for Maryland, which shot just 7-of-15 from the line.

The 6-5 Strawberry struggled, shooting just 3-of-10 while committing five turnovers.