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Writer: Bill Trocchi
Game: Butler vs. South Alabama
Post time: 7:10 PM
BIRMINGHAM -- A.J. Graves played point guard his first two years at Butler. He's in no hurry to go back.
"I don't want to do it anymore," Graves smiled after he was forced to play point for a long stretch in the first half because of Mike Green's foul trouble. "I don't like it when Mike goes out."
There's good reason for that. Green leads the Bulldogs in points, rebounds and assists and was the Horizon Player of the Year. In a game of this magnitude, Green was likely to play at least 35 minutes. So when he was forced to the bench early, Graves was forced to revert to his sophomore-year position.
"It was a very unique situation," Graves said. "It changed some of the things we do."
On Friday, it changed for the better. Tied 20-20 with No. 10 seed South Alabama when Green went out, Butler ripped off a 27-10 run to close the half and cruised to an 81-61 win. Graves piled up four of his team-high six assists during the decisive stretch, which was highlighted by a three-point shooting spree by Pete Campbell.
"I thought we were going to rotate [Green] back in," said Butler's first-year coach Brad Stevens, who faced the difficult decision in his first NCAA tournament game of whether to let his point guard play through foul trouble. "But we kept building the lead. By the end of the half, it would have been crazy to put him back in there with two fouls."
Stevens was confident with Graves handling some point guard duties.
"I heard a lot of people say that A.J.'s a catch-and-shoot guy," Stevens said. "But A.J. was a heck of a point guard for us for his first two years at Butler. He's very capable."
Graves finished with 18 points to go along with his six assists as Butler set up a meeting with No. 2 seed Tennessee.
"They are a different team and we are a different team," Graves said when asked about last year's win over the Vols. "I think it will be a different game than it was last time."
Especially if he finds himself at point guard again.