Butler-Duke, the write-through

For reporters on deadline, the write-through is a Godsend. It’s the version you get to do after you’ve pounded out your frantic first effort, the one that you get to put a little thought into. I had the assignment of writing the game-story on the Duke-Butler national title classic Monday night. Here’s a write-through . . .

INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe this game won’t be shipped to Hollywood for adaptation. Just send the video to Springfield, Mass. Duke and Butler played an NCAA championship game that was Hall of Fame-worthy.

The script was still intact with the ball in the air. A hold-your-breath, half-court shot by Butler’s Gordon Hayward as time expired. The clock was striking. But lightning did not.

The ball bounced off the backboard, then off the rim — barely — and Duke emerged with its fourth NCAA Championship, 61-59.

A Lucas Oil Stadium crowd of 70,930 didn’t see the Hoosier hoops history it came to see, but it witnessed history nonetheless. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski matched legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp with his fourth national title, second on the all-time list behind John Wooden.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that we’re the national champions,” Krzyzewski said. “. . . I’ve been fortunate to be in eight national championship games, and this was a classic. This was the toughest and the best one. Butler played winning basketball. It was a game that we won and they didn’t lose. And we were able to win because of our defense and rebounding in the second half.”

When Hayward’s shot bounced off the rim, the Butler players, winners of their last 25 games, looked stunned. Junior Matt Howard fell face-up on the mid-court stripe. There was a sound like a shot from the top of the stadium, and confetti and streamers began falling. But Krzyzewski did not join the celebration. He made his way through the Butler team, speaking to the Bulldogs players, as did senior guard Jon Scheyer.

“I was standing at halfcourt and I thought it was going in,” Howard said. “That makes it even a little more devastating. You think that shot is going, then it rims out like it did. Our guys played hard, and I couldn’t be more proud. … We felt like if we held Duke to 60 or less we would win. They scored 61. Give them credit. They had to earn it. We just came up a possession short. The thing that usually happens — the shot goes in, we win — it didn’t happen.”

In the end, Duke’s big three were just a little too much for the little Indianapolis school that shocked college basketball with its title game run.

Kyle Singler, who never came off the court in the game, led all scorers with 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds to earn game Most Outstanding Player honors. Scheyer added 15 points and Nolan Smith 13 for Duke, the No. 1 seed out of the South Region that finished with a 35-5 record.

But there were plenty of outstanding plays.

Duke maintained a slim lead for much of the second half and led 60-55 with Butler laboring to score with just three minutes remaining.

Then the Bulldogs offense came to life. Hayward dribbled into the lane, reversed course, drove again through the lane and found Matt Howard for a layup that cut its deficit to three. After a big defensive rebound from Ronald Nored, Butler got a second-chance score from Howard — off a rebound and pass from Shelvin Mack — and its deficit was only 60-59 with 55 seconds left.

A missed jumper by Singler with 37 seconds left and another Nored rebound set up a chance to lead for Butler.

The Bulldogs went to Hayward, who had hit a buzzer beater as a senior at Brownsburg High School to win the Indiana high school state championship. Now he tried to duplicate the feat on a bigger stage, but his fading, high-arching baseline jumper was just a bit too hard, and Duke center Brian Zoubek rebounded and made one free throw to set up Hayward’s last-second try.

“There’s not much to say from our end. I’m proud of our guys,” said Butler coach Brad Stevens, the 33-year-old native of Zionsville, Ind., who guided the Bulldogs to 25 straight wins. “We just came up one possession short in a game with about 145 possessions. It’s hard to stomach when you’re on the other end of that. But when you coach guys like this with their kind of heart and effort and determination, you’re at peace with the result because they’ve given it absolutely everything they had.

Severe storms swept through central Indiana with hail, lightning and high winds on Monday afternoon.

But when Duke walked into the thunderous teeth of a crowd hungry for the hometown team to whip up some history, the Blue Devils would not be blown off course.

The game featured 15 lead changes, but none in the final 13 1/2 minutes, when Duke put the clamps on defensively. Credit Kzrzyewski for making the game’s key adjustment.

Butler made the first move to open the second half, realizing that its guards could take Duke’s off the dribble. Mack penetrated for a pair of layups and Butler went up 40-38

Then came Kzryzewski’s counter. He pulled his defense back in, slacking off to take away Butler’s penetration, and to get his rebounders closer to the basket.

Butler had no answer. With points at a premium, two important Duke scores came on fundamental basketball plays — baseline out-of-bounds plays. Twice Butler lost a man to give up wide-open layups on out-of-bounds plays in the second half to help Duke keep its advantage.

And the last big play of the game that may be overlooked came by Zoubek, the 7-1 senior from Haddonfield, N.J., who has struggled with injuries but whose emergence over the past 15 games might have been the key to Duke’s championship run.

He rose up to alter Hayward’s baseline try for the lead, then recovered to grab the rebound and made his first free throw before missing the second intentionally.

“How fitting that was for Brian to make that play to win it,” Kzryzewski said. “Something he’s been doing all year.”

Duke was a 7 1/2 point favorite, and in pregame coverage, ESPN’s Dick Vitale, among others, said, “I don’t see how Butler can do it.”

Certainly, nobody thought outrebounding Duke on the offensive glass was one of the ways. But Butler did that in the first half, claiming 12 of the game’s 15 offensive rebounds to keep it tight throughout.

Duke jumped out to a 6-1 lead on a pair of Smith baskets, but Mack, a Lexington, Ky., native, hit a three-pointer, and a trend was established — Duke pulling to a modest lead, and Butler evening it up with threes.

Butler led 20-18 just before its worst stretch of the half. Duke sported to an 8-0 run on back-to-back scores by Jon Scheyer and took a 26-20 lead. That would be the biggest lead either team would hold in the game. After a pair of unlikely three-pointers from senior Avery Jukes, Butler trailed only 33-32 at halftime.

It was not the half anyone envisioned. Butler had outrebounded the bigger Blue Devils and made five 3-point goals to Duke’s three. Butler’s bench also had outscored Duke’s 15-0.

In the end, Butler outscored Duke 15-11 on second-chance points, and didn’t allow a fast-break point. Butler’s bench outscored Duke’s 15-0. But in a battle of brilliant defenses, Duke’s in the end was better. But barely.

“We caught lightning in a bottle and r
an with it the last 25 games,” Stevens said. “. . . When you coach these guys with their effort, their focus, their determination, you’re at peace with whatever result happens on the scoreboard because you’ve got a group that’s given it every single thing they have. I’m so proud of them.”

So was Krzyzewski. When he walked down the podium stairs, he stood alone until a small group of reporters approached him. He was still in shock.

“As good as Butler’s story is,” he said. “Ours is pretty good too. . . . It will become an historic game, a benchmark game, not just the way it was played, but who played in it and what comes about. “


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