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 2 1/2 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 Holgin, 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 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.”
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.”