HOUSTON — Zach Hahn believes he belongs on the biggest stage of college basketball.
So when this Butler senior guard started hitting 3-pointers as if they were no big deal Saturday night in the national semifinals against Virginia Commonwealth, he didn’t surprise himself.
He was simply doing his job. Hahn stepped up at a point in the game when Butler desperately needed him. The shooting percentage for the Bulldogs from beyond the arc was nothing to write home about early in the second half (17 percent), but Hahn turned the tide for Butler.
He hit two treys and made a layup as the Bulldogs picked up momentum and went on to end the Rams’ season with a 70-62 in front of a frenzied crowd at Reliant Stadium.
Hahn finished with eight points and helped Butler advance to the national championship game for the second consecutive year.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me. I just made plays to knock down the shots I got,” Hahn said.
Butler trailed 38-36 with 15 minutes to play after Jamie Skeen drilled a long-distance shot. That’s when Hahn, who came in shooting 32.6 percent from long range and had made 44 3-pointers on the year, took his game up a notch.
His first trey put the Bulldogs up 39-38, the second gave Butler a 42-41 edge. Then came the reverse layup that thrilled the fans and put the Bulldogs in front for good at 44-43.
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It seemed to energize the rest of the team, particularly Shelvin Mack, who knocked down a couple of 3-pointers and stretched the Butler lead to 50-45 with under 10 minutes to play in the game.
Mack finished with 24 points to pace the Bulldogs, who shot 35.6 percent from the floor and nailed eight of their 23 attempts from beyond the arc against the Rams (28-12), who went from the First Four to the Final Four as an 11th seed.
“Zach did a great job,” Mack said. “He hasn’t been able to make shots all of the time but he stays positive. Me and my teammates are doing a great job of getting him the ball where he can have success.”
Head coach Brad Stevens was thrilled that Hahn had a chance to shine on this stage. He has seen the work ethic Hahn has displayed throughout his career and was not surprised that the veteran rose to the occasion when it mattered most for the eighth-seeded Bulldogs.
“There are certain guys that think they should be playing in these games,” Stevens said. “Zach is one of those guys. He just as a mindset of, you know, when I’m open, I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna take the big ones.”
Hahn has been Butler’s top scorer off the bench the past two seasons and came to Butler as an All-State guard out of Chrysler High School in New Castle, Ind.
And while he has never averaged more than 5.2 points per game, he has never doubted his ability to perform at a high level.
Saturday’s national semifinal was a case in point. Hahn shot 3-of-6 from the floor and also grabbed four rebounds in the win, the 14th consecutive for the Bulldogs.
“I was a good scorer in high school, but I’ve really developed into a great 3-point shooter at Butler,” Hahn said. “I’ve worked hard and deserve the success I have had. The big thing is that I’ve become a good leader and I’ve learned to step up and make big shots when I get an opportunity.”
Hahn could have easily struggled the whole night. He was 0-for-3 from the field in the first half, all three shots coming from 3-point range. Of course, no one else on the team was shooting much better. The Bulldogs shot 33.1 percent from the field in the first half and went a miserable 3-of-13 from beyond the arc.
Still, Butler managed to hold a 34-28 lead at the half.
As for Hahn, well, good shooters never lose their confidence. He took that philosophy to heart in the second half.
“Steve Kerr told me he liked the way I shot the ball at the Final Four Salute,” Hahn said. “That gave me a lot of confidence. I wasn’t worried about why my shots weren’t going down. I was focused more on finding a way to shoot better in the second half.”
It worked and now Butler will get a chance to play for the championship it came so close to winning a year ago. Butler lost to Duke 61-59. It has never forgotten how it felt to fall short.
“We’re not going to settle for just winning this game,” Hahn said. “We have a sour taste from last year, and now we have a chance to win it all. That is what really counts.”