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Green, Butler capture Horizon League title

Mar 12, 2008 - 4:33 AM INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Butler's dominating season this time ended with a tournament championship.

Mike Green tied career highs with 24 points and 13 rebounds and freshman Matt Howard added 16 points as No. 10 Butler pulled away from Cleveland State, 70-55, in the Horizon League championship on Tuesday.

Drew Streicher chipped in 11 points for the Bulldogs, who won their first league championship since 2001 despite making their third straight appearance in the tournament final.

"I am just really happy for these five guys," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "The ball doesn't always bounce the way you want to, but these guys just focus on what they can control. These guys bring it every single day.

"I think that Mike (Green) has gotten so much better over the last two years, he has never stayed satisfied with where he is at."

The Bulldogs (29-3), who are in the midst of their fifth 20-win season in the last seven years, also matched the school record for wins in a season.

Butler scored the game's first seven points and held an 11-2 lead less than four minutes into the contest.

The Bulldogs continued to stretch the lead and appeared in control after back-to-back 3-pointers from Pete Campbell and Streicher gave the Bulldogs a 20-6 bulge with 13:23 left in the half.

"It is something that we talked about at the beginning of the year when we were setting our goals," Streicher said. "None of us had ever cut down the nets in March. From day one that was our goal. Fortunately we were able to play here at Hinkle (Fieldhouse) - to cut them down here was really special."

But the Vikings (21-12) fought back, eventually tying the game at 34-34 before Butler surged back in front, 38-34, at the intermission.

The Bulldogs still held a slim 43-41 lead before turning up its defense, holding Cleveland State scoreless for six minutes and extending their advantage to 51-41 with 10:35 remaining.

"I thought we finished plays," Stevens said. "All night our first-shot defense was pretty good. Give Cleveland State credit first of all because they are the best offensive rebounding team in our league and they are the best rebounding team in our league. But I thought our guys adjusted and did a better job on the glass."

Butler continued to pull away, taking a 60-44 lead after consecutive 3-pointers from Streicher and Zach Hahn with 6:10 left to play. Cleveland State got no closer than 13 the rest of the way.

Green, who had 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in Saturday's semifinal victory over Illinois-Chicago, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

"We worked as a team all summer long," Green said. "Coming from where I came from, I have never been on a team like this. This is the epitome of team. Everybody is happy for each other, we don't have any jealousy on this team. It's a special thing."

The Vikings, who had a 26-14 advantage on points in the paint, shot just 36 percent (20-of-55) from the field, including 2-of-16 from the arc. Cleveland State also was hurt by 14 turnovers that Butler turned into 23 points.

"Butler was quite deserving of this victory today," Vikings coach Gary Waters said. "They played well enough to win. When you play a great team like this on their home court, things may not go well."

J'Nathan Bullock had 21 points - on 6-of-20 shooting - and nine rebounds to lead the Vikings, who were making their first appearance in the tournament final since joining the league in 1995.

"The game was never over," Bullock said. "There's 40 minutes in a ballgame. We had to play defense and make our shots, and once our offense got clicking a little bit, we climbed back into the game. I always thought the game was ours to take control of. We just couldn't get over that hump."