INDIANAPOLIS - The ball sailed from halfcourt with the buzzer sounding — bounced off the backboard, the rim, the floor.
Most of the 70,000 fans on Butler’s side let out an “Ohhhhhh,” and the Duke players piled onto forward Kyle Singler at center court. What a game! And what a way to end the season, even if America’s favorite underdog came up a little short.
Duke beat Butler 61-59 for the national championship Monday night, a win that wasn’t secure until after the buzzer sounded — when Gordon Hayward’s half-court, 3-point heave for the win barely missed to leave tiny Butler one cruel basket short of the Hollywood ending.
Singler scored 19 points and Brian Zoubek rebounded Hayward’s miss with 3.6 seconds left — the first of two chances Butler had to win it — to end the overachieving underdog’s try for a real-life “Hoosiers” sequel.
“We just came up a bounce short,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
That bounce went in favor of the Blue Devils (35-5), who snapped Butler’s 25-game winning streak and brought the long-awaited fourth national title back home to Carolina and the Cameron Crazies.
The “Big Three” — Singler, Jon Scheyer (15 points) and Nolan Smith (13) — 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 bounded out.
“I can’t really put it into words because the last couple of plays were just not normal,” Singler said.
What a game to end one of the most memorable tournaments in history, filled with close games, upsets and underdogs; the kind of tournament that some fear 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.”
Nobody led by more than six.
The Blue Devils won with defense. They held the Bulldogs to 34 percent shooting and contested 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.
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