INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Butler fans had a homegrown party Saturday, less than six miles away from Lucas Oil Stadium and the Final Four.
With ribbons tied around trees and street posts, blue-clad students, parents and alumni started lining up outside of historic Hinkle Fieldhouse for a viewing party more than 2½ hours before tipoff between their beloved Bulldogs and Michigan State. Several thousand were inside as the game began and they got a thrill as Butler outlasted the Spartans 52-50.
Water fountains on the small campus were dyed blue, and Greek organizations had plenty of signs up.
"Let's win this one for all the small schools that never had the chance to get here," read one sign, quoting a line uttered in "Hoosiers" before underdog Hickory High wins the Indiana state basketball title in a movie version of Milan High's famous victory in the actual 1954 championship.
Fans were hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite players after Saturday's game — win or lose.
"Oh yeah, the Bulldogs always come home," said freshman Stephanie Hodgin, who brought two friends and a picnic lunch for three.
First in line outside the fieldhouse was sophomore Stephanie Chevrant, who arrived early enough for Friday's practice to get a front row seat inside the Final Four venue. Without a ticket to the game, Chevrant made sure nobody would keep her out of Hinkle's viewing party, either.
Two high school students from coach Brad Stevens' alma mater, Zionsville, arrived with lawn chairs to help their parents, Butler alums.
"We're just holding a spot for them," Ellen Hoskins said. "We've been planning this since yesterday."
MAGIC TIME: Magic Johnson made his way to his seat at Lucas Oil Stadium, flashing that enormous smile and slapping high-fives with the face-painted Michigan State fans in the front row of the student section.
Even for the Magic Man, this never gets old.
"This is what you live for. This is what it's all about," Johnson said. "I love it. Every minute of it."
Michigan State's all-time alum rarely misses a chance to cheer on his beloved Spartans, especially this time of year.
The MVP of Michigan State's epic 1979 NCAA title game over Indiana State, Johnson was in St. Louis last week to watch the Spartans in both rounds of the Midwest Regional, and entered Lucas Oil Stadium for Saturday night's game against Butler like a conquering hero returning home.
"It's a great moment. We're back again and I think this year is more special because nobody expected us to be here," Johnson said. "It's so special because you've played in it, you won it, you've been a part of it, you know what it's all about."
TWEETNESS: Duke guard Nolan Smith was doing it for his dad again.
Smith, who had the game of his life after famously dedicating the South Regional final to his late father Derek, made a similar declaration on his Twitter page roughly four hours before facing West Virginia in a Final Four semifinal.
"This one is for my dad and my family!! Yall already know!! Love you 43," Smith tweeted, mentioning the jersey number his father wore three decades ago when he helped lead Louisville to a national championship. Last week, Nolan Smith scored a career-high 29 points against Baylor after dedicating that game to him.
West Virginia's most verbose tweeter, forward John Flowers, was uncharacteristically muted. Roughly seven hours before tipoff, he tweeted: "The silence b4 the storm."
RUFF LIFE: Forget Coach K, Magic or Sparty. The guy everyone wanted to see before Saturday's Final Four had four legs and fur.
Blue II, Butler's English bulldog mascot, was making the rounds at Lucas Oil Stadium before his Bulldogs played Michigan State. He hung with the guys from CBS, posed for pictures with adoring fans and got a pat on the head from former Butler coach Thad Matta, now at Ohio State.
He was on his best behavior, too. He didn't even bark when the Michigan State players walked by.
"Normally, we're dragging him. He's dragging us today," said owner Michael Kaltenmark, who is Butler's director of development. "We came in here, and his spirits just lifted."
Like the rest of the Bulldogs, Blue's had a big week. He turned 6 last Saturday, the same day Butler beat Kansas State to reach its first Final Four. He's been a guest star at pep rallies, done interviews — well, done interviews as well as a dog can — and worked his furry charm all over the streets of downtown Indianapolis.
Best of all, he didn't have to leave home, with Butler playing just a few miles from campus.
Blue does have to adjust his gameday routine a bit. While he'll still be on court to be petted by each of the Butler starters after they're introduced, he won't have his dog pound like he does at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Instead, Blue will head over to the Butler fan section, where Kaltenmark will have a nice, big bone waiting.
"It's a little bit of a change to our tradition, but we're just happy to be here," Kaltenmark said. "As we like to say in our house, it's the first in a lifetime opportunity."
POLIAN'S PLACE: Colts president Bill Polian brought his son and daughter-in-law to Saturday's game at Indy's home stadium, which has been transformed into a temporary basketball arena.
Just 2½ months earlier, the stadium was the site of the AFC championship.
And it was no surprise who Polian, architect of Super Bowl teams in the small-market towns of Buffalo and Indy, was rooting for Saturday. Of course he wanted the small-school guys from Butler.
"It's been an exciting year for Indianapolis sports," Polian said. "We pull, for the 'Dawgs every week, so today is no exception."
He plans to watch Monday night's title game, too, no matter who's in it
THE REAL CHITWOOD: The player whose shot inspired the movie "Hoosiers" had some prime seats for Butler's first Final Four game.
Former Bulldogs star Bobby Plump was sitting with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels while other members of the 1954 Milan High state championship team were scattered throughout the arena, a spokeswoman for the governor said.
Plump's buzzer-beating jumper in the '54 championship game inspired "Hoosiers," and the climactic scene of that 1980s movie was filmed in Butler's fabled Hinkle Fieldhouse. Plump has been a popular figure all week, entertaining fans and well-wishers at his restaurant and at Hinkle.
AP Sports Writers Nancy Armour, Joedy McCreary and John Marshall contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS to Stephanie Hodgin, sted Stephanie Holgin.)