Butler had the adorable panting Bulldog mascot, the typecasted good-guy players and a Hollywood script three-fourths written.
But the NCAA championship game isn’t a movie and sometimes the quarterback gets the girl, the rich guy wins the lottery and, in this case, Goliath bats down David’s slingshot pebble.
Duke, one of the giants in college basketball, staved off what would have been an epic upset by beating underdog Butler, 61-59, on Monday night in the NCAA championship game in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Blue Devils added to their legacy by earning a fourth national title and cemented the place of their program and Coach Mike Krzyzewski among college basketball’s all-time best.
“This was a classic,” Krzyzewski said.
Butler had its sweet Hollywood-made tale edited with a shocker of an alternate ending as most of the pro-Bulldogs crowd, just a few miles from Butler’s famous Hinkle Fieldhouse gym, let out a collective groan at the buzzer. Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt shot at the buzzer glanced off the rim and their bid for a first national title fizzled.
“I just thought, ‘Please don’t,’ ” Duke’s Nolan Smith said. “It looked good. I was just praying it didn’t go in.”
Butler had the comeback thing down — almost.
Trailing 60-59, Hayward’s jump shot bounced off the back of the rim with five seconds remaining and Duke’s Brian Zoubek — in the Blue Devils’ opinion a likable 7-foot-1 giant – grabbed the most important of his game-high 10 rebounds.
After Butler fouled him with 3.6 seconds on the clock, Zoubek made the first but intentionally missed the second free throw, which Hayward rebounded and then raced down the court in time to heave his last-ditch attempt at the buzzer.
Zoubek flexed and joined his teammates in celebration.
Kyle Singler led Duke with 19 points, Jon Scheyer added 15 and Smith 13.
Butler played The Butler Way, but ultimately Duke was, well, Duke.
They battled on the boards despite a size disadvantage, created 12 turnovers and hustled until the end.
“With their effort, their focus, their determination, you’re at peace with whatever result happens on the scoreboard,” Butler Coach Brad Stevens said.
Duke has celebrated under reigning confetti many times before, but don’t think that this one didn’t mean something to the Blue Devils. They were favored, but there were those who thought Duke would not reach this title day.
Critics didn’t think the Blue Devils deserved a No. 1 tournament seeding, and the team had been criticized for a six-year absence from the Final Four and lack of a championship since 2001.
For Krzyzewski to win four championships in two decades places him in the company of the best coaches, moving above his mentor Bob Knight and tied with Adolph Rupp.
“He’s been our leader all year long,” Smith said of Krzyzewski.
Hayward made only two of 11 shots for 12 points, but Butler received 11 points from forward Matt Howard, who started despite suffering a mild concussion Saturday.
Butler enjoyed an unprecedented season and a tournament run the Bulldogs and their fans will talk about for the rest of their lives. But, on Monday night, Duke wrote its own ending.