By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; D01
INDIANAPOLIS -- All night, Duke had to fend off the storybook that an entire nation seemingly wanted to read. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Blue Devils had written their own conclusion, one that met their own standards and objectives.
Butler, the diminutive hometown team, fought Duke with the inspiring spunk for which the Bulldogs have become known. Duke's poise never fully materialized, but its talent eventually won out. With a 61-59 victory Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Blue Devils cemented their fourth national championship under Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Duke's success has bred mass contempt among many college basketball fans, but the Blue Devils didn't seem to mind that they were perceived as the bad guys before or during the contest. And they especially didn't mind afterward as they were cutting down the nets.
With just more than five minutes remaining in the game, Duke forward Lance Thomas fouled Butler forward Gordon Hayward hard on a breakaway. Hayward tumbled into the stanchion, and the officials reviewed the play to determine if Thomas's action was intentional. They ruled it was not, and boos rained down from the crowd. Hayward made both free throws to pull the Bulldogs to within a point of the lead.
"There was never an easy possession in this game," Krzyzewski said. "There was just never an easy possession. It was not a game that anybody lost. Both teams were such winners, and we were fortunate to win."
Duke never led by more than five points in the second half. With 1 minute 13 seconds left in the game and the Blue Devils clinging to a three-point lead, Butler forward Matt Howard maneuvered around Duke's 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek to grab an offensive rebound off a missed three-pointer by teammate Shelvin Mack. Eventually the ball made it back to Howard, who tallied an uncontested lay-in to again close Butler's deficit to one.
On the ensuing Duke possession, Kyle Singler - who tallied a game-high 19 points and nine rebounds - missed a jump shot. Butler guard Ronald Nored lunged past Zoubek for the defensive rebound.
With 13.6 seconds left, Butler called consecutive timeouts to prepare one final inbounds play. Hayward's fadeaway baseline jumper missed, and this time it was Zoubek who snagged the rebound - his 10th and final board of the night.
"There were two plays right before I got that defensive rebound at the end where I could have gotten an offensive rebound and a defensive rebound," Zoubek said. "Those were two plays that I saw that really could have affected the game, and I knew that me getting the rebound would be a huge play."
After being out-hustled by the Bulldogs on the boards in the first half, Duke attacked the glass more aggressively after the break. The Blue Devils owned a 20-11 rebounding edge in the second half.
Fouled after grabbing that last rebound, Zoubek made his first free throw and then intentionally missed the second. With three seconds on the clock, Hayward jolted downcourt and launched a desperation heave one step beyond the midcourt line.
Singler, on the floor after being laid out by a Butler pick, said he had a "great view" of Hayward's final shot, which hit the backboard and the front of the rim before falling away.
"I thought, 'This doesn't look good,' " said Singler, who was selected as the Final Four's most outstanding player. "I can't believe it didn't get a lucky bounce or something. Those plays happen, and we're glad that we came up on the right side of the ball."
In the Butler locker room afterward, several Bulldogs said they also expected the shot to fall. Butler's NCAA tournament run had been so charming, so inspiring, that its players could not envision any other ending.
The Bulldogs had not lost since Dec. 22 and had not allowed an opponent to score as many as 60 points since Feb. 26 - a string of seven games. On Monday night, they allowed Duke to tally 61.
"We battled for 40 minutes, and it really came down to two points in the end," said Howard, who finished with 11 points and four rebounds. "I think that Duke getting over 60 [points] may have been the difference."
"You go back in the game and you think of some plays where we messed up on scout plays," Butler's Nored said. "There were a few inbounds plays that they had a lob. We were trying to switch, and they flipped us right for a layup. Those possessions could have changed the whole outcome of the game."
"For the most part, we did a pretty good job," Butler Coach Brad Stevens said. "If you hold Duke to 61, you have a chance to win."
Though Duke had not played for the national championship in nine years, the Blue Devils entered their matchup against Butler with a cache of laurels already in hand. Duke - the blue-blood program with chartered jets, a private athletic dormitory and a practice facility separate from its home arena - was competing in its eighth national title game in the past 25 seasons. Its Hall of Fame coach, Krzyzewski, owns 867 career wins - most among active Division I college coaches - and an Olympic gold medal.
The Blue Devils were supposed to snap Butler's 25-game winning streak; everyone from television analysts to other coaches such as Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Georgetown's John Thompson III picked Duke to prevail. Consequently, nearly every fan outside of Durham, N.C., hoped that Duke would not.
So just as Butler embraced its role as the nation's darling, Duke knew its part, as well. Several Blue Devils spoke Sunday of how familiar they were with being rooted against, and at Lucas Oil Stadium - located not more than six miles from Butler's campus - they knew they would be up against another crowd overwhelmingly opposed to their cause.
Over the past four weeks, Duke has performed with focus, dismantling opponents not with superior firepower, but by relying on superior rebounding and a defense that allowed 61.1 points per game. When the Blue Devils were awarded the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament's South Region, an outcry ensued over whether they were worthy of such a status.
Duke won a share of the ACC regular season title and took home the ACC tournament championship, and yet critics pointed the conference's mediocre showing during the regular season and wondered whether another team - say, West Virginia - might be more deserving of a top seed. On Saturday night in the national semifinals, Duke defeated the Mountaineers, 78-57.
Krzyzewski orchestrated the Blue Devils' postseason push. After claiming his fourth national championship, he is tied with former Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp and stands behind only UCLA's John Wooden on the all-time college basketball coaching ladder.
Much like the program he oversees, Krzyzewski's immense success has yielded a considerable pool of detractors. On Friday, nearly 30,000 issues of the Indianapolis Star were published with an illustration that depicted the Duke coach with horns on the cover of the sports section. The accompanying headline: "Despising Duke."
The newspaper eventually apologized for the illustration, but the point already had been made. And with that backdrop, Krzyzewski and his squad entered Monday night intent on adding to their supposed villainy in the same manner by which they earned such categorization in the first place - by winning.
Duke's "Big Three" buoyed the Blue Devils offensively. Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer combined to score 47 of Duke's 61 points. But it took longer than the Blue Devils anticipated for other aspects of their game to perk up.
From the opening tip, Butler forced the ball into the post, hoping that Howard could draw early fouls against Duke's imposing front court. In that sense, Howard succeeded. Duke's Thomas picked up two fouls in just more than three minutes, forcing the Blue Devils to shuffle him in and out of the game in spurts for the rest of the half.
Despite being at a distinct size disadvantage in the post, Butler outrebounded Duke in the first half, 24-17, which included a 12-3 edge on the offensive boards. Combined with another stingy defensive performance, Butler kept pace with Duke throughout a first half in which there were nine lead changes. The Blue Devils often settled for rushed perimeter shots, rather than navigating into Butler's compact defense.
Duke led by one at halftime, but clamped down on defense and demonstrated more rebounding authority in the second half. Butler shot 35 percent and made 1 of 5 three-point attempts after the break.
"We've won by playing defense all year, and we didn't have it the whole freaking game until the last play," Zoubek said. "We won the national championship with defense. There's nothing else to say. It's unbelievable."