ST. LOUIS (AP)—Joel Cornette thought he could watch the game.
Cornette was in an Indianapolis restaurant five years after Butler’s overtime loss to Florida in the 2000 NCAA tournament, and the game was being replayed on television.
Cornette, a freshman on Butler’s 2000 squad, figured he could handle watching it for the first time. He believed the missed free throws would be easy to deal with. So would Mike Miller’s game-winning shot and all the heartache that followed.
He was wrong.
“It almost brought me to tears, which is embarrassing to admit,” Cornette said Thursday. “I thought I could stomach it, but the pain felt as fresh as it did that day.”
The top-seeded Gators (31-5) and fifth-seeded Bulldogs (29-6) meet Friday in the Midwest Regional for the first time since Miller’s dramatic shot propelled coach Billy Donovan’s team to its first championship game.
“It changed a lot of things for not only me, the University of Florida and all of the players there because we went from possibly getting knocked out in the first round to playing for the national championship game,” Miller said. “It changed a lot of lives.
“You go one and out in that situation there, and you never know what happens. The tournament controls a lot of what players do, what coaches do, what universities do because it helps recruiting, notoriety, all that stuff. It was a big shot for the University of Florida.”
Miller’s driving floater in the lane probably would not have happened had LaVall Jordan made two free throws at the other end. Butler, best known then for having the gym used in “Hoosiers,” led 68-67, and Jordan—an 83 percent free-throw shooter—had a chance to make it a three-point game with 8.1 seconds remaining.
He missed them both.
“I thought they were going in,” said Jordan, now an assistant coach with the Bulldogs. “When I let them go, they felt good. They didn’t go in.”
The Gators didn’t fall, either.
Brent Wright got the rebound and passed to Teddy Dupay. Dupay brought the ball up the court and handed off to Miller, who was cutting toward the lane.
Miller dribbled twice, ran into a defender and shot a running one-hander. Cornette and Jordan ran into each other a few feet away, and neither could get to Miller. The ball hit the front of the rim and bounced through as the final horn sounded.
“Sometimes plays like that propel you, and I think that anytime there’s a chance to advance and help your program, it does a lot of great things,” Donovan said.
The Gators celebrated wildly, and the Bulldogs trudged off the court in disbelief.
“Everyone on that team hurt,” said Cornette, now the team’s coordinator of basketball operations. “I keep telling people that when you grow up and you’re in the backyard, you dream about being Mike Miller and hitting the last shot. You don’t dream about being on the other end.
“There’s no way to prepare for how you react to that. It almost puts you in a daze for your entire career. You think back to it and you don’t have any positive results about the game.”
Both teams may have benefited from the close game.
Jordan returned to Butler the following season, led the team and helped beat Wake Forest in the first round of the tournament. Cornette was part of the 2003 team that advanced to the round of 16 for the first time in school history. And Butler became one of those mid-major teams that wreak havoc for the big boys this time of year.
“I think Butler people really enjoy watching (that game),” Cornette said. “I think they feel like that was the moment that Butler kind of put themselves over the top. I completely disagree. No athlete at all wants to be remembered for losing. That’s just a bad way to look at it. You want to be put on the map because you win a game, not because you lose one.”
The Gators won four more games before losing to Michigan State in the title game. They got plenty of exposure and set the foundation for the current team that has won 14 consecutive postseason games, including last year’s national championship.
“What they’ve done has been amazing,” Cornette said. “We’re trying to get to where they are. I don’t think there’s anything more fitting than having them be the roadblock for that. Unfortunately, as good as they are, it’s probably the last road block you’d like to have.”