"That's the most fun I've had in a long time," Butch said after Thursday's practice. "I think there were a lot of smiles from a lot of guys. It all pays off, all that hard work that you've done, for a night like last night."
Last night was a jubilant evening at the Kohl Center, as the University of Wisconsin clinched at least a share of the elusive conference title with a 77-41 win over hapless and shorthanded Penn State.
When the final buzzer sounded, the "Grateful Red" – UW's student section – rushed the court to celebrate with the players, who quickly donned brand-new Big Ten championship shirts and hats.
"As players, you don't get to experience that as much and I'm sure students don't get to experience something like that (often)," Butch said. "It's just a great feeling, and I was able to sit back and realize the things that we've been through and enjoy it."
Butch and his fellow seniors were honored before and after the game for Senior Night, and all four performed well in their Kohl Center farewell. Butch scored 12 points in 21 minutes, center Greg Stiemsma had 10 points and six rebounds and guard Michael Flowers dished out nine assists and grabbed eight boards.
None of them, however, can say they went out with a bang quite like UW's fourth senior did. 5-foot-11 reserve guard Tanner Bronson had his name chanted by the student section with over ten minutes left in the game as Wisconsin built up a 25-point lead.
Bronson did enter with six minutes remaining, and buried an NBA-range three-pointer with 2:28 to go. Bronson was replaced a few seconds later, but not before an emotional embrace with UW coach Bo Ryan.
"It's been a fun career here at the Kohl Center, and it was nice to be out there in front of the fans to celebrate something special, the Big Ten title," Bronson said. "I couldn't ask for much more."
There were other special moments not involving the seniors that can't be forgotten. Every player on the UW roster played, including walk-on Wquinton Smith, who saw game action for just the second time this season.
Junior forward Joe Krabbenhoft had never dunked in a college game before, and had apparently taken enough ribbing from his teammates in practice. Stiemsma fed Krabbenhoft an inlet pass, and Krabbenhoft had plenty of room to slam it home for the first time in his Badger career.
Freshman guard/forward Tim Jarmusz has picked up his minutes over the past few weeks, but hadn't done much on the scoreboard. That is, until he hit his first career three-pointer against the Nittany Lions.
And redshirt freshman center J.P. Gavinski received one of the loudest individual ovations of the night – other than Bronson's big shot – with a putback slam for his first basket since Nov. 11, the first game of this magical season.
"We got a few bounces going our way on some of those dunks," Butch said. "But that was pretty fun."
When asked where last night ranked on his list of special UW moments, Bronson said: "That definitely has to be at the top right now. It was nice to see our whole team celebrate and just enjoy the game and the experience."
What makes this whole season even more special is nobody anticipated much out of the Badgers this season, after losing All-American forward Alando Tucker and sharpshooting guard Kammron Taylor.
"We weren't necessarily expecting to finish on top," Bronson said, "and I think it's been a good road for us."
The players now face the interesting task of preparing for the season finale at Northwestern in just two days.
Fortunately for UW, the Wildcats are the Big Ten's worst team at 1-16. What's not so fortunate is Wisconsin's track record in Evanston; the Badgers are 34-37 all-time at NU, and just 1-3 during Ryan's tenure.
But the newly-minted conference champs know what's at stake; a win Saturday would not only exorcise their demons in Evanston but also make them the undisputed kings of the Big Ten.
"We know how hard we worked for (the trophy), and it's time to be selfish in that regard," Bronson said. "We want it to ourselves."