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Cleveland State heads to NCAA for second time in last three years

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Cleveland State star Kailey Klein has scored in double figures 99 times during her brilliant career.

She'll have a chance to make it an even 100 in the NCAA tournament.

Klein scored 23 points and Cleveland State beat Butler 66-57 on Sunday to win the Horizon League tournament and earn its second NCAA berth in the last three years.

"I don't really look to the personal goals as much as if we were to win a first-round NCAA tournament game," said Klein, one of four senior starters who joined the program following a 4-25 season. "That's way more important that 100 double-figure scoring nights.

"If I can do both," she added, "that would be great."

Cleveland State (19-13) led by as many as 15 points in the second half before Alyssa Pittman began to rally Butler. She hit a trio of 3-pointers to trim the deficit to 47-41, and Melanie Thornton's deflection led to a fastbreak layup by Terra Burns to make it a four-point game.

Angel Roque answered with a 3-pointer from the wing, and a steal and coast-to-coast layup by Shawnita Garland gave the Vikings some breathing room.

"We could have got beat by 30 tonight," Butler coach Beth Couture said.

Pittman finished with 18 points for Butler (23-9), which was seeking its first conference tournament title since 1996. Thornton, the league's player of the year, had 16.

"She was huge," Couture said of Pittman, who provided her spark off the bench. "When she started shooting 3s, we could get Mel inside because, all of a sudden, you have to play everybody. When we weren't hitting 3s in the first half, they just stayed right in the paint. That's exactly how I'd play us."

Cleveland State led 30-20 at halftime by holding the Bulldogs to 26.9 percent shooting, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range. The Vikings also forced 10 turnovers.

"I think maybe the first 20 possessions, we saw all of the same plays that we had gone over," Cleveland State coach Peterson Abiad said. "I thought that we recognized them right away and defend them exactly the way we talked about."

It was a disappointing end to what has been a charmed season for Butler.

Couture was diagnosed with breast cancer in April and endured 16 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment -- the last of which came just days before the season-opener against Kentucky. The Bulldogs wear pink shows as a tribute to their coach.

"It would have been a story, I'm sure," Couture said. "The story for me would have been, we got back to the tournament for the second time in our history. That would have been the story. For what these kids have done this year with my story, they made it easy for me to coach."