INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago, Butler shocked the college basketball world by upsetting top-ranked and unbeaten Indiana 88-86 in overtime at the second annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But even more stunning was who took down the vaunted Hoosiers, a team with two of the top four selections in the ensuing NBA Draft, with a shot in the final seconds.
Then-sophomore guard Alex Barlow hadn’t even earned a scholarship at the time after walking on with the Bulldogs a year earlier, but soon did following his driving, spinning floater that bounced and bounced and bounced again, before falling through the net with just over two seconds remaining in the extra session.
Barlow spoke in depth Thursday regarding the infamous play.
:23 seconds remain; Butler leads 86-84 following a 3-point shot from Chase Stigall.
“We were up two and coach Stevens subbed me out on defense,” Barlow recalled, “which I don’t ever really remember being subbed out offense-defense for defense and put in for offense. He put [Kameron Woods] in because of the way that we guard out of bounds plays. [Stevens] put Kam on the ball. At the time, I was kind of confused, but then I was ‘Oh wait, that makes perfect sense.’ Me on the ball versus Kam on the ball? He’s pretty good at that.
“[Indiana center Cody] Zeller scored [with 19 seconds remaining] and kind of knocked [Butler forward] Khyle Marshall over and they got a wet spot on the floor. So they stopped the game to mop up the floor. And coach Stevens told me to go check in [for offense]. If Khyle doesn’t fall down, maybe I never even get back into the game. We couldn’t get the ball in and we called timeout and we drew up the play.
:19 seconds remain; the game is tied and Butler has possession.
“It was one of the plays that we run a lot. We ran it a lot that game. We were going to try and get the ball to either Rotnei [Clarke] or Kellen [Dunham] coming off a screen and [Indiana] had a tendency to overhelp, so [Dunham or Clarke] were going to try and get it inside.”
Barlow explained that Dunham was the primary target on the play.
“We figured, as good of a game as Rotnei was having [19 points on 7-for-19 shooting], Indiana might try to make somebody else beat them. Obviously, you want to get the ball to your best players if you can, but we anticipated them possibly overhelping or overshowing, and then the next option was to try and get the ball inside.”
Butler was playing a “small lineup” of Marshall, Stigall, Barlow, Clarke, and Dunham due to extreme foul trouble. Frontcourt players Roosevelt Jones, Erik Fromm and Andrew Smith had each fouled out.
“We had four guards in the game,” Barlow said, “so Khyle was the option to go to inside.”
During that timeout, a number of things occurred, which eventually paid off for Butler.
“I remember when we came out of the timeout, coach Stevens called me back and said ‘Hey, if you don’t have something go. If it gets under a certain amount, just go to the hoop and make a play.’ “
The situation was strange for Barlow, because he was a walk-on player just trying to find his niche with the team. Now he was being asked to run a game-winning play — or even make the shot — against the top-ranked team in the nation.
“At that time, my game was to shoot wide-open lay-ups,” Barlow said. “Steal the ball and get lay-ups. Shoot an occasional three if I was open.”
As the Bulldog huddle broke up, Barlow noticed something about Indiana that ultimately proved critical.
“When they came out [of the timeout], they subbed out Zeller,” Barlow said. “They went smaller. So I felt like if I could get to the rim, and nobody else was open, I wouldn’t really have anyone there to possibly block the shot.
“I think [Indiana coach Tom Crean] said after the game that they did that to switch every screen. And that caused our play to not be able to work, because they switched everything.”
:19 seconds remain and Barlow gets the ball inbounded to him from Clarke. He is being guarded by Hoosier guard Jordan Hulls.
— Alex Barlow
“I went real hard right for a step, then cut left to get the ball,” Barlow said. “I felt like I could get open. Jordy Hulls was on me and that is probably the reason coach Stevens had me get the ball instead of Rotnei.
“[Indiana guard Victor Oladipo] was guarding Rotnei, so coach Stevens probably thought that I could get open better than Rotnei could.”
Barlow brings the ball up the court and he sees that no one is getting open and the clock is down to eight seconds.
“At the time, I didn’t think ‘This is the number one team in the country. The chance of me being in this spot.’ I never thought of that. After the game is when I think about that. But during the game, I never once thought about it.”
Eight seconds are on the clock and no one is getting open off the screens due to Indiana’s switching defense. Barlow realizes he has to make a play. He drives against Hulls to his left and reaches the middle of the lane.
“I don’t mind going left, I can go either way,” Barlow explained, “but I wanted to shoot it with my right hand. So I knew that if I did go left, I had to get back to my right. It would’ve been tough for me to keep going left and shoot it with my right.
“I think that I made a [right-handed shot going to his left] earlier in the game, it may have been the first one of my career. When I got in the paint, unless somebody came open, Rotnei, Kellen, or Chase for three, or Khyle underneath the rim, I was shooting it, because I thought I’d be the team’s best shot.”
Barlow reaches the lane and determines that he has to get the ball back to his right, so he spin dribbles back to his right hand.
“I knew that as soon as I got to the lane with my left hand, that I was going to spin,” Barlow said. “Whether I was going to spin quick or spin slow was determined by how quickly [Hulls] cut me off. He kind of barely cut me off, so I knew I had to go slower. I had the time. I didn’t have to quick spin. I got back to my right hand and the [basket] was kind of in front of me.”
Barlow spins back to his right and was deciding what to do at that point.
“I was going to look for shooters if [the defense] came off,” Barlow said. “Oladipo stayed with Kellen, which allowed me to get the shot off.”
Barlow rises up and gets the shot off…
“I thought I missed it,” Barlow said.
The ball bounces off of the rim.
“I was actually in [Hinkle Fieldhouse] that morning shooting some jumpers and some floaters before we got on the bus to go to the game,” Barlow said. “When I shot it, it felt short, it felt wide. I was thinking ‘That didn’t feel good.’
“I didn’t think that it really had much of a chance to go in. But it hit the rim the first time and I thought, ‘All right, you gave yourself a chance for it to go in.’ I shot it softly, I didn’t shoot it too hard.”
The ball bounces again.
“It was just bouncing around,” Barlow said. “Was it going to stay in? Was it going to come out? The more times that it hits the rim, probably the less chance it has to stay and go in. It just kept bouncing.”
The ball finally drops through the net and Barlow gives a little fist-pump before reality set back in.
“When I got to half-court, I got a little bit more excited,” Barlow said. “I thought ‘Just get back on [defense] and wait until it hits zero before you get super, super excited. There were a lot of IU fans there and I think they were kind of in shock.”
Following the win, Barlow said the message from Stevens was one of pride, but also humility.
“He told us that it was a gutsy effort,” Barlow said. “We didn’t give up. We were down Rose. We were down ‘Drew. We were down Fromm. But we just kept fighting, kept fighting and he was proud of the way we played and the way we fought — win or lose.
“My shot went in and we won that game, but it was the way we fought to stay in that game. He said that just because we made that shot, it didn’t make us any better and it didn’t make Indiana any worse. It was a great basketball game and both teams played well.”