By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 1:39 AM
INDIANAPOLIS -- Much like they had all season, Duke's Big Three of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer helped the Blue Devils scrape out another victory Monday night, this one earning the trio its first national championship.
None of the players had their best performances against Butler's tight man-to-man defense, but they were the only three Duke players who scored in double figures in a classic national championship game that was not decided until the final shot.
"It was the toughest game we played all year," Scheyer said.
The three combined for 47 of Duke's 61 points in the two-point victory over Butler. Among the three, only Scheyer got any rest during the game -- and only for three minutes. Singler, who scored a game-high 19 points to go along with 9 rebounds, was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
"The ball went in the last two games," said Singler, who made 7 of 13 shots Monday. "It was not about me shooting the ball, it was about the team."
The victory gave Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski his fourth national title and the first for the Big Three who had endured their share of criticism for tournament failures in recent years. This was the first time in their careers that they had advanced beyond the Sweet 16, and it was the final opportunity for Scheyer to cap his career with a title.
"I don't think many people can say they went out by winning a national championship," Scheyer said. "I don't think anyone could have predicted the four years we had here. It means a lot to go through it with these guys."
During the on-court celebration, Scheyer waved at fans with a smile from ear to ear. Singler rolled with teammates on the ground. And Smith nodded in enjoyment while "One Shining Moment" played on the giant television screens inside Lucas Oil Stadium. Smith won the national title in the same city where his late father, Derek Smith, won the national championship with Louisville 30 years ago.
"I can't explain how happy I am," Smith said. "This is for my dad. Like father, like son. This is so special to me right now."
It had been a long road for the three. As a freshman, Scheyer suffered a heart-wrenching first-round NCAA tournament loss to Virginia Commonwealth. The next season, the Blue Devils were manhandled by a more physical West Virginia team in the second round. They lost in the Sweet 16 to Villanova last season. And few considered Duke a national title favorite this season because they would have to win the national title with essentially three scorers.
"As good as the Butler story was, and is and will be," Krzyzewski said, "these guys have a pretty good story, too. I love these guys. They have been great."
They were not great Monday, but they were good enough. One game after making a combined 12 three-pointers in the victory over West Virginia in the national semifinals, the Big Three were more erratic from beyond the arc Monday. Singler made 3 of 6 three-point shots, but Smith and Scheyer combined to made 2 of 10 three-pointers.
"I thought our guards did as good a job as you can do on Smith and Scheyer," Butler Coach Brad Stevens said. "What are they? Ten for 27 combined [shooting], 2 for 10 from three. That's the recipe for beating them in their five losses."
The game was expected to be a grind-it-out affair because Butler had not allowed an opponent score 60 points in an NCAA tournament game. And the Blue Devils have no problems winning ugly. The production from Duke's three leading scorers proved especially critical because the Blue Devils were outscored 15-0 in bench points.
"This was a game where things were not by the book," Krzyzewski said. "Because guys were fighting so hard."
With eight minutes to play, Scheyer converted a three-point play to widen Duke's lead to five points. Butler would respond, but when Gordon Hayward's desperation shot near half court caromed off the rim, the Big Three were the ones smiling in the end. Finally.
"When I saw it bounce off the rim and the team come together," Singler said, "it was a special feeling."