By ANDREW SELIGMAN
CHICAGO -- A.J. Graves scored 14 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute, and No. 8 Butler closed in on the top seed in the Horizon League Tournament by beating Illinois-Chicago 51-46 on Wednesday night.
The win was the ninth straight for the Bulldogs' and their 54th since the start of last season, giving them the best two-year win total in conference history. Now, their magic number for clinching the top seed over Wright State is one, but this night was more nightmarish than magical until the closing minute.
UIC had just tied it at 46 on a three-point play by Jermaine Dailey when Graves hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 45 seconds left. The Flames' Scott VanderMeer missed down low, and Mike Green grabbed the rebound for Butler (25-2, 14-2).
The Flames then committed four quick fouls before Green missed the front end of a one-and-one with 14 seconds left. VanderMeer got the rebound, and after a timeout, Josh Mayo missed a three-pointer with about four seconds left.
Graves then hit two free throws for the final score.
Things don't get any easier for the Bulldogs, who host No. 16 Drake on Saturday.
Pete Campbell added 12 points for Butler, which never tried to penetrate UIC's zone. All but 10 of the Bulldogs' 47 field goals were three-pointers, and they hit just 13 from long range.
UIC (14-13, 8-8) was worse, going just 18-of-54 from the field and 2-for-14 from the outside, while wasting solid efforts by Mayo and Dailey.
Mayo, the conference's second-leading scorer, had 15 points. Dailey hit all six shots and scored 13 to go with eight rebounds.
UIC beat then-No. 12 Butler at home in overtime last season, and with an 11-1 record at the UIC Pavilion, the Flames were hoping for a repeat. Instead, there was just a close call.