April 09, 2010
Butler, Duke provide classic gameAn instant classic. Duke held its breath as they watched a 46-foot heave just rim out at the buzzer, which would have given Butler the unexpected win.
The No.1 seed Duke Blue Devils vs. No.5 Butler Bulldogs was pinned as "David vs. Goliath," and it truly was, all the way from the coaches down to the universities themselves.
Arguably the best coach in college basketball today, Mike Krzyzewski, was going for his fourth national championship, and his first since 2001.
Many had already slated Duke to win the game by double digits, but no one could have expected the game that transpired before the nation's eyes.
Butler was enjoying its first-ever appearance in the national championship game, and they were doing it in front of a home crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium, which is only six miles away from their home court, Hinkle Field House.
Coincidently, it was the same stadium that the famous sports movie, "Hoosiers," pitted a small town high school against a school four times its size.
Butler, a university with 4,200 enrolled students, beat national powers Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State during the tournament before reaching the final stage.
Head Coach Brad Stevens showed that he belongs in that discussion as one of the better coaches in the game, and Butler finally took that step into being one of the more respected mid-major programs in the country.
From the tipoff, the game was competitive, and neither team gave an inch. It was a defensive battle throughout, and no team ever possessed a lead above six points throughout the entire game. It was clear that Duke was going to rely on its "big three" of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith to bring home the title for the Blue Devils.
On the other side of the bench, Butler was going to rely on their sophomore stars Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward. Unfortunately, Hayward went 2-11 from the field, and missed the final two shots of the game that would have given the Bulldogs the lead and probably the National Championship.
With only a one point deficit at halftime, the final 20 minutes led to some drama.
With the game in question the entire second half, the Blue Devils looked as if they were about to pull away from the Bulldogs, but as Butler has proven throughout the tournament, they came up with big plays and big time shots to keep them in the game.
After two layups by center Matt Howard, which brought the Bulldogs to within one point, they came up with a big stop at the other end. With Gordon Hayward in control of the ball with 13 seconds left, he was able to get an open look with five seconds remaining, and as the ball went past the outstretched arm of gigantic center Brian Zoubek, the shot was just long. Yet, with four seconds left, Butler would get another chance to win it.
With Zoubek at the line, he made the first one, but intentionally missed the second one, leaving Butler with a chance to win.
Hayward grabbed the rebound, and after receiving a great screen from Howard, he let a half-court shot fly, and the entire stadium went quiet as they watched the ball go off of the backboard and off of the front of the rim (Krzyzewski would have gotten hammered had that gone in). As the ball bounced on the court, mixed emotions raced across Lucas Oil Stadium.
Although Butler lost 61-59, they got a small victory. The success in the tournament will lead to more national respect, easier recruiting, and the satisfaction that they came within a bounce off the rim from beating a year-to-year powerhouse.
Duke entered the NCAA Tournament not projected to get out of the region, and yet they were the last team standing. This may be one of Coach K's best coaching jobs ever, and puts him among elite company with four national championships.
WEEKLY FEATURESNewsLiving & ArtsUniversity UpdateForumSports