Many questioned whether Duke deserved a No. 1 seed. Even though the Devils were the last of the No. 1 seeds, they received the easiest path to the Final Four when the brackets were released. Remember that?
Look, Duke made tremendous progress in the final two months of the season but the Devils are one of the most flawed national champions in the past 25 years. No one would have been surprised if Butler had hung around for about 10 minutes, only to have Duke blow them away.
But this game was close throughout.
Duke didn't take advantage of Brian Zoubek's size inside. Butler held a 24-17 advantage on the boards at halftime, including 12-3 on the offensive end. The Blue Devils eventually held a two-rebound advantage at the end of the game, but the poor effort early kept Butler in the game.
Then you had Avery Jukes, a Butler senior who threw down 10 points in 10 minutes in the first half. Jukes had scored six points on 3-for-11 shooting in the first five games of the NCAA Tournament and suddenly he hit 4 of 6 shots and led Butler in first-half scoring.
Zach Hahn, a junior guard from New Castle, Ind., hit a three-pointer in the first half and the stadium, filled with Butler fans who gave the Bulldogs the greatest home court advantage in the championship game history, went crazy. Butler fans were much louder than Saturday night and their presence must have played a role.
Kyle Singler played 40 solid minutes and led Duke in scoring. But with 36 seconds remaining, he short-armed a shot that would have given Duke a three-point lead. The Most Outstanding Player in the tournament should have hit that shot. But he missed and he missed badly. That kept the door open for Butler and the Bulldogs certainly had their chances with Hayward on the floor.
If Hayward’s shot at the buzzer had gone in — and it came close — the entire sporting world would have been questioning the decision to have Zoubek miss his second free throw with 3.6 seconds left.
Instead, Duke celebrated among the confetti. Coach K has moved up another notch and past his mentor, Bob Knight.
But Butler should have won Monday night. That would have been a better ending.
“You get pretty excited when the ball is in the air,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “ We had two shots to win the game. Our guys don’t like to lose. They’re very prideful. Any time you have a player of Gordon’s caliber and he’s got the ball in his hands, you feel like you’ve got a chance to win.”
CBT: Turning the page on the Mike Rice scandal, Rutgers hired Louisville's Julie Hermann as athletic director on Wednesday. But, Hermann has a prior scandal of her own.
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