Eyes force Brad Stevens to leave game

INDIANAPOLIS -- Brad Stevens didn't get to watch Butler clinch its regular-season title Saturday.

He would sure like to see another celebration at the Horizon League tournament.

The coach of last season's national runners-up started experiencing vision problems during Butler's morning shootaround, then tried coaching in sunglasses before leaving late in the first half with what was later diagnosed as a corneal edema.

Assistant coach Matthew Graves took over for Stevens and led the Bulldogs to a 63-56 victory over Loyola. It gave Butler a share of its fifth straight league title and one of two byes in the postseason tourney.

"Brad gave me a little bit of prep before the game, said his eye was really bothering him," Graves said. "He said, 'Be prepared. We might have to make a change.'"

They did.

With 2 minutes to go in the first half, Stevens walked off the court. He and his wife then left Hinkle Fieldhouse to see an eye doctor, turning the reins over to Graves, a longtime assistant and former Butler player.

After the game, team spokesman Jim McGrath said, Stevens' wife called Graves with two messages. She said her husband told Graves that he did a "great job" and that her husband's condition should improve within the next 24 hours. He was resting at home Saturday night, McGrath said.

"Right now, I can't see and my eye feels like it has a thousand scratches," Stevens said in a statement. "My vision got progressively worse as we were getting ready to start the game, and by the final media timeout of the first half, I could not see the other end of the court and everything in front of me was blurry."

Losing Stevens, who led Butler (21-9, 13-5) on its incredible ride to last year's national championship game loss to Duke, was a shock.

"I feel for him, more than anyone else," forward Matt Howard said after playing what could be his final home game at Butler. "You know how badly he wants to be there, be on the sidelines. He's our leader, so when you lose him, you might lose a little bit. But we've got a great coaching staff and they stepped in and did a great job."

The win also helped Butler regain some of its league dominance, which took a hit this season.

When the Bulldogs' lost three straight conference games during an 11-day span which ended Feb. 3, it looked like Butler's streak of regular-season titles would end.

Instead, the Bulldogs rallied and head to Milwaukee for the conference tourney on a seven-game winning streak. The Panthers clinched the Horizon's top seed with a 94-87 win over Youngstown State. Cleveland State, a 64-57 winner over Wisconsin-Green Bay, also finished 13-5 in league play but will get the No. 3 seed.

The difference between No. 2 and No. 3 is huge.

Butler gets a bye into the semifinals and needs only two more wins to claim the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tourney. Cleveland State must win four games to earn the title.

If all goes well, Stevens should be back on the sideline -- with a clear vision of what his team needs to do in Milwaukee.

"I'm sure this victory is going to make him feel a lot better," Graves said. "It came down to getting extra shots, extra loose balls, and these guys did a tremendous job. When you've got them on your side, it helps make you look a little bit better."