Duke edges Butler, 61-59, for NCAA title

Butler had the adorable Bulldog mascot, the type-casted good-guy players and a Hollywood script written to the final scene.

But the NCAA championship game isn’t a movie and sometimes the quarterback gets the girl, the rich guy wins the lottery and Duke gets the victory.

The Blue Devils 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 and added to its already illustrious legacy. By earning its fourth national title, Duke cemented itself and Coach Mike Krzyzewski into the small and elite best-ever category of programs and coaches.

It certainly wasn’t easy, though, as Butler played -- as they like to call it -- The Butler Way for 40 minutes.

Ultimately, though, Duke was Duke.

While Duke has celebrated under reigning confetti many times before, don’t think that this one didn’t mean something to the Blue Devils. Yes, they were favored, but few thought Duke would live to see the title game.

Many didn’t even think the Blue Devils deserved a No. 1 seeding in the South Regional.

But there they stood in Indianapolis as victors, ending the storybook tale that Butler had captivated basketball fans everywhere with throughout the tournament.

After starting the game shooting a lousy one of nine and falling behind 6-1, the Bulldogs never panicked, sticking to its trademark I-dare-you-to-shoot defense and finding some unlikely heros to emerge along the way.

Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack led the Bulldogs with 12 points each. Butler, though, shot only 34.5% from the field. If ever a classic David-Goliath example it was on the boards, where Butler – without a player taller than 6-8 in the game – made Duke and 7-1 center Brian Zoubek work for every rebound.

Avery Jukes filled in soundly for 6-8 Matt Howard off the bench with 10 first-half points, but both players were plagued with foul trouble. Howard started after suffering a mild concussion in Saturday night’s Final Four victory against Michigan State.

Zoubek, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, picked up his fourth foul with 11:21 remaining.

The big men weren’t as important as the big players and big plays in this showdown that lived up to its billing.

Duke’s big three showed up big as always. Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, who have made up the bulk of Duke’s scoring all season, each scored in double figures yet again. Singler led the way with 19 points and nine rebounds

Scheyer, played in his final game for the Blue Devils, scoring 15 points, while Smith added 13.

Butler’s players always talk about the team effort and they needed it more than ever on Monday night.

Hayward, the team’s best known and most talented offensive player, started out shooting just two of seven in the first half and attempted only one shot in the first 15 minutes of the second half. He made all eight of his free throws, but finished two-of-11 shooting from the game, missing a fadeawy baseline jumper over Zoubek with five seconds left that could have given the Bulldogs the lead.

He received some more encouragement from the already pro-Butler crowd, in the Bulldogs’ hometown. He was fouled hard under the basket by Duke’s Lance Thomas with 5:07 remaining and connected on both free throws to cut Duke’s five-point lead to 56-55.

A Singler jumper and two free throws from Nolan Smith gave the Blue Devils a 60-55 lead with 3:16 to play. Back-to-back layups by Howard, though, pulled Butler to within a point with a minute left.

From the start, the teams played into the Hollywood script that everyone seemed to crave between the perennial power Duke and the unheard of underdogs Butler.

Duke used a 7-0 run to build a 26-20 lead with 5:08 remaining in the first half after Butler had built a 20-18 lead.

Coach Brad Stevens smoothed his tie, referred to a play sheet inside his coat pocket and huddled the Bulldogs. They followed his lead. They never panicked and put together their own 7-0 run and reclaimed the lead on a three-pointer by Jukes -- his first one of the tournament-- to lead 27-26. Duke fought back to take a 33-32 lead at halftime.

With a championship game that went down to the wire – a distinct contrast to last season’s championship route by North Carolina -- maybe it will be a movie script afterall.