They won with a mean streak, most pointed when Lance Thomas took down Hayward hard to prevent an easy layup with 5:07 left. 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.
“They weren’t going to go away,” Singler said. “We needed every last minute of that game to get this win. It was a great game.”
In the true team fashion that has defined “The Butler Way,” the Bulldog scoring was distributed almost perfectly even. Hayward and Shelvin Mack had 12 each. Matt Howard, coming off a concussion in the semifinal win over Michigan State, finished with 11, and 2-point-a-game scorer Avery Jukes kept Butler in it with all 10 of his points in the first half.
But Butler’s 33-year-old coach, Stevens, was correct when he said his team couldn’t endure another 15-for-49 shooting night — what Butler shot Saturday in the semifinals. The Bulldogs went 20 for 58 this time — 34.5 percent. All the heart in the world couldn’t overcome that.
“I said yesterday that when you coach these guys, you can be at peace with whatever result you achieve from a won-loss standpoint because of what they gave — they gave everything we had,” Stevens said. “There’s certainly nothing to hang your head about. I told them in there, what they’ve done, what they did together, will last longer than one night, regardless of the outcome.”
A disappointing ending to those who wanted to see the “Hoosiers” sequel play out in real life. In that movie, based on the high school championship won by tiny Milan High in 1954, Jimmy Chitwood hits the game-winner at the buzzer to win one for the little guys.
Thankfully, that movie is still available on DVD.
This one, or some version of it, might be too, someday.
Despite losing, Butler may have proven its point nonetheless.
Mega-money and power conferences aren’t the only ones with a chance in big-time college sports. Nothing proves that better than the NCAA tournament — March Madness, a great event that stayed great into April this year.
There were no superstars, just a bunch of solid players who may end up in the NBA — not with lottery-pick money in their pockets, but with a national title forever.
That’s always the goal in Krzyzewski’s program, and the fact that the Blue Devils hadn’t been to the Final Four since 2004 didn’t go unnoticed down on Tobacco Road, especially while North Carolina was winning two championships over that span.
But while last year’s champions, the Tar Heels, rebuild, Duke is this season’s standard-setter.
Everyone thought the perfect ending would be for Butler to win in its hometown, but the Blue Devils also like Indy — it’s the place where they won their first championship, with Christian Laettner at the helm, back in 1991.
It’s also the city where Smith’s late father, Derek Smith, led Louisville to a championship in 1980.
Some pretty nice symmetry there. Some might call that a Hollywood ending, too.
“I can’t explain how happy I am,” Smith said. “Like father, like son. This is so special to me right now.”
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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