duke 61, butler 59
Horizon champions just short
Life is never going to be quite the same for the little guys.
Butler may have lost to Duke 61-59 in the national title game Monday night.
By hanging with Duke and making the Blue Devils work for every last bit of their fourth national title, though, the Bulldogs reminded everyone that heart, not size or status, is what matters most.
It wasn’t quite “Hoosiers.” But Butler’s run will be one for the ages.
As Gordon Hayward’s desperation 3 bounced off the rim at the buzzer, Matt Howard collapsed at halfcourt, covering his face with his hands. Howard played despite being knocked loopy by a concussion in Saturday night’s semifinal win over Michigan State.
Duke won its fourth national championship, forcing Hayward to miss with four seconds left to hold off the Bulldogs and end the tiny school’s run at the title one game short of the perfect ending.
Kyle Singler had 19 points for the Blue Devils and Brian Zoubek rebounded Hayward’s miss and hit one free throw with 3.6 seconds left to give Duke a two-point lead.
Hayward rebounded Zoubek’s intentional miss and threw up a desperation heave at the buzzer, that hit glass, bounced off the rim and out.
The Blue Devils (35-5) snapped Butler’s 25-game winning streak and brought the long-awaited fourth national title back home to the Cameron Crazies.
The “Big Three” — Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith — won the Big One for coach Mike Krzyzewski, his first championship since 2001 and the fourth overall, tying Coach K with Adolph Rupp for second place on the all-time list.
“First of all, it was a great basketball game. I want to congratulate an amazing Butler team and their fans,” Krzyzewski said. “Fabulous year. We played a great game, they played a great game. It’s hard for me to say it, to imagine that we’re the national champions.”
Nobody figured this would be easy, and it wasn’t — no way that was going to happen against Butler, the 4,200-student private school that turned the tournament upside down and drove 5.6 miles from its historic home, Hinkle Fieldhouse, to the Final Four.
Butler (33-5) shaved a five-point deficit to one and had a chance to win it, when its best player, Hayward, took the ball at the top of the key, spun and worked his way to the baseline, but was forced to put up an off-balance fadeaway from 15 feet.
He missed, Zoubek got the rebound and made the first of two free throws. He missed the second one intentionally, and Duke’s title wasn’t secure until Hayward’s desperation heave from halfcourt went off glass, hit the rim and bounded out.
What a game to end one of the most memorable tournaments in history, the kind that could be history if the NCAA goes ahead with what an expansion to 96 teams — something very much on the table for next year.
“Both teams and all the kids on both teams played their hearts out,” Krzyzewski said. “There was never more than a couple, a few points separating, so a lot of kids made big plays for both teams.”
Neither team led by more than six.
Playing against the Bulldogs and working against a crowd of 70,390 with very few pockets of Duke fans, the Blue Devils persevered — never leading by more than six but never falling behind after Singler hit a 3-pointer with 13:03 left for a 47-43 lead.
The Blue Devils won with defense. Holding the Bulldogs to 34 percent shooting and contesting every possession as tenaciously as Butler, which allowed 60 points for the first time since February. Zoubek, the 7-foot-1 center, finished with two blocks, 10 rebounds and too many altered shots to count, but also came out to trap the Butler guards and disrupt an offense that was already struggling.
They won with some clutch shooting, including Singler’s 3-for-6 effort from 3-point range and 6 of 6 from the free throw line in the second half until Zoubek’s intentional miss.
They won with a mean streak, most pointed when Lance Thomas took down Hayward hard to prevent an easy layup. The refs reviewed the play and decided not to call it flagrant — one of a hundred little moments that could have swung such a tight, taut game.