The clock rang midnight at Butler University’s ball, as Duke University played the part of party pooper when it won its fourth NCAA national championship in the closest title game since 1989.
Duke’s victory wasn’t presented on a silver platter, however, as the fifth-seeded Butler Bulldogs fought to the final buzzer.
Up by two points with 3.6 seconds remaining, the Blue Devils’ seven-footer in Brian Zoubek intentionally missed his second free throw. As the Bulldogs’ Gordon Hayward pulled down the rebound, time slowed, fans stood and viewers across the nation held their breaths. The final 3.6 seconds would be remembered as one of the most memorable images not only of 2010’s March Madness, but also of the tournament’s existence.
Hayward dribbled around Duke’s Lance Thomas, received a rock-solid screen from Matt Howard and released desperation, halfcourt heave. All hands in Lucas Oil Stadium rose to the rafters. The last-second prayer banked off the backboard and rimmed out, sealing Duke’s championship run.
The bad bounce capped off a forgettable game for Hayward, who finished with a 2-for-11 performance for 12 points. Hayward had a game-winning opportunity with 14 seconds remaining, but a fade away over Zoubek hit off the far iron.
Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens said in the post-game interview that his team “came up a bounce short.”
That bad bounce snapped the Bulldogs’ nation-leading 25-game win streak and tied Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski with Kentucky great Adolph Rupp for second-most all-time championships in NCAA history with four – six behind the Wizard of Westwood in John Wooden.
Kyle Singler led the Blue Devils offensively and defensively, scoring 19 points and holding Butler’s leading scorer to a mere 12 points.
The traditional cutting of the nets couldn’t have been a better ending for seniors Thomas, Zoubek and Jon Scheyer, who saw their title hopes slip through their fingers in the first round in 2009.
Although Butler’s bench outscored Duke 15-0, the Blue Devils pulled in nine more rebounds in the second half. This factor is what analysts across the nation said would lead the ACC team to a title.
Duke held its opponent to 34 percent shooting from the field and used sharp shooting to hold off Butler late in the game. The Blue Devils may not have held a lead larger than six, but no baskets came easy, which was shown with five minutes remaining when Thomas committed a hard foul on Hayward that sent him slamming to the hardwood.
Indianapolis may be Butler’s hometown, but Duke might as well label Indy its vacation spot. The Devils won its first national championship in 1991there against Kansas University after recording one of the largest upsets in NCAA history after defeating the powerful Rebels of UNLV in the semifinal game.
Duke’s Nolan Smith has some history in the city as well because in 1980, his late father led Louisville to a title.
“I can’t explain how happy I am,” Smith said after the 2010 nail-biter. “Like father, like son. This is so special to me right now.”
So as the confetti fell on top of the dog-piled Devils, all 70,000 fans in Lucas Oil Stadium, Duke- or Butler-affiliated, applauded the hard-fought effort, because even if the Cinderella Bulldogs came up just inches shy of a “Hoosiers” remake, history was made in Indianapolis.
Duke University defeated Kansas University in 1991, not the University of Kentucky. The Review apologizes for the mistake. (4/6/10)
Sports editor Grant Lucas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org