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Posted: Tuesday April 6, 2010 2:38AM; Updated: Tuesday April 6, 2010 3:58AM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Singler shows his toughness while winning Final Four MOP

Story Highlights

Kyle Singler played the tourney's last four rounds with a shiner on his right eye

His feathery shooting touch makes him seem more fragile than he really is

Singler has yet to decide if he will go pro or return to Duke for his senior season

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(1) Duke (5) Butler

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Kyle Singler led all scorers with 19 points in Duke's win over Butler.
Rich Clarkson/SI

INDIANAPOLIS -- Butler forward Matt Howard struck a blow Monday for the wide receivers of southwest Oregon. Duke forward Kyle Singler, the former South Medford High free safety who loved nothing more than "hitting people" -- Singler's words -- was made to look like a receiver hung out to dry by his quarterback as he chased Butler guard Gordon Hayward moments before the NCAA title game's thrilling anticlimax.

Singler never saw Howard, who planted his feet and protected the family jewels just like they tell you to do in all the basketball textbooks. Singler plowed into Howard and crumpled to the floor as Hayward launched his three-point prayer. While wondering who put a Winnebago in the middle of the court, Singler opened his eyes. A terrifying thought struck him.

"To be honest, I thought the shot was going to be good," Singler said. "From my perspective, it just looked right."

Singler, twisting his body to catch a glimpse of the ball as it hit the backboard, waited for the inevitable roar from the decidedly pro-Butler crowd. "It was just one of those things," Singler said, "where you're just wishing, hoping it won't go in."

When the ball bounced off the backboard, then off the rim, then off the floor to preserve Duke's 61-59 win, Singler lifted his head and smiled. Then the former football player got tackled.

"I jumped on him after I saw the shot miss just to make sure he was OK," guard Nolan Smith said. Singler was indeed OK. He's always OK, Smith said. "Kyle is very tough," Smith said. "He'll take hit after hit and keep on going."

Singler played the tournament's last four rounds with a shiner on his right eye, compliments of an Andre Dawkins elbow during a practice drill days before the Blue Devils faced Purdue in the Sweet 16. That elbow also opened a cut that required six stitches to close.

Maybe it's the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Singler's feathery shooting touch that makes him seem more fragile than he really is. Maybe it's his ability to slice to the basket and make it look so easy that obscures just how hard Singler works on the court. Despite appearances, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player is tougher than he looks.

Monday, Singler led Duke with 19 points, none bigger than the two from a jumper that put Duke up 58-55 with 4:47 remaining. Hayward had just made two free throws to slice Duke's lead to one, and the crowd was riled by the fact that -- after a replay review -- officials decided not to call Duke's Lance Thomas for an intentional foul on the Hayward layup attempt that led to the free throws. Duke needed to score on that possession to regain control, and Singler drilled his shot.

Afterward, Butler coach Brad Stevens discussed the difficulties of defending Singler, who is too big to be guarded by most guards and too quick to be guarded by most forwards. "Singler was obviously the toughest for us to defend because of his size," Stevens said. "We were guarding him with a 6-2 very, very, very good defender in Willie Veasley. Singler had to earn everything he got."

Big shots on a big stage, when combined with his stellar measurables, make Singler an intriguing prospect for NBA general managers. Sometime soon, he'll have to decide whether he wants to return to Durham to chase a second consecutive title as a senior.

Asked early Tuesday morning what he plans to do next season, Singler said he had "no idea." He said he plans to consult with his family and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski before he makes his decision. "I'm just going to let myself be open to what coach has to say," Singler said. "He has my best interests in mind."

If Singler's final moment as a college basketball player came on the floor after a crushing pick, he'll probably take it. Because after the pick came the miss, and after the miss came a joyous pile of Duke players with Singler at the bottom -- thanking the stars circling his head that he was wrong about that last shot.

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