Plucky Duke earns greatness by outlasting Butler in magical bout (cont.)
Krzyzewski felt it, too. He would tell them: You are a good team. That's all. He did not want them to get comfortable. He did not think they could afford to feel too good about themselves. After a while, well, they played so hard, and they were so close, and they came together, he would tell them: "You are a very good team." That's as far as he could go. The Blue Devils went into the NCAA tournament as pretty clearly the last No. 1 seed -- "good but not great" was their tag. They defended. They could make three-pointers. They had a lot of size inside. They played as a team. But, people said, this still was not DUKE, all capital letters, the teams that had won so much and won so thoroughly that the only reaction for much of America was to despise them for being so good.
These Blue Devils won tournament games. They rolled past Cal. They streaked past Purdue in the second half. No, it wasn't always art. The Baylor game, especially, was often agonizing. But they won. They rained three-pointers on West Virginia. Krzyzewski told his team then that they were a good team with great character.
Finally, Monday night, Duke faced Butler, Duke faced America's story, Duke faced a dome filled with Hoosiers fans. The Blue Devils mainly faced a Butler defense that is so quietly suffocating that people kept missing the point, even though the Bulldogs had not allowed a team even 60 points the entire tournament. They also faced a stunning Butler confidence -- "These guys didn't come in here thinking they were just gonna roll over," Stevens said after the game.
No. The Butler players, quite apparently, kept thinking they were going to win, even as the evidence piled against them. In the second half, Duke led by four and Singler, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, had an open shot, and if that shot went in ... but it didn't. Butler stayed close. The game stayed close.
Then Duke led by five, and Nolan Smith had an open jumper, and if that went in ... but it didn't. Duke still led by five, and Jon Scheyer had an open three-pointer, and if that went in ... but it didn't. Duke had one more five-point lead, this time with three minutes left, and this time it looked like Duke would put it away for sure ... but Singler turned the ball over.
Maybe it was Indiana voodoo. Maybe it was destiny. Or maybe Duke players, like every other team that played Butler, found themselves running from ghosts and ducking away from shadows because that's the sort of defense Butler plays. But here's the thing: Duke plays defense like that, too ... shoot, Krzyzewski and Duke practically INVENTED defense like that. And so while Butler would not crumble, Butler also could not quite come back. Butler's terrific Gordon Hayward made only 2 of 11 shots. Butler's terrific Shelvin Mack made only 5 of 14. They were dodging ghosts and shadows, too. This was a game for survivors.
And that's how it came down to that last, desperate heave. Duke's Brian Zoubek stood at the free-throw line with Duke up one. There were 3.2 seconds left. Zoubek made the first free throw. And then, using a herky-jerky motion, he purposely missed the second. Krzyzewski had decided that his team's best shot was to get the clocking going (Butler had no timeouts) and force Butler into some sort of desperate and hopeless heave toward the basket.
Only, Butler had one more bit of sorcery left. Instead of panicking, Hayward grabbed the rebound and dribbled quickly to his right. And instead of panicking, Butler's Howard set a crushing pick on Singler, a certain foul except no referee is calling a foul there. That pick cleared Hayward, left him alone to shoot the final shot. It was a long shot, but it was open. The basketball was in the air. And, it just missed.
"What the hell," Krzyzewski said with a sigh, "it worked." He looked happy and dazed and proud and like he was not entirely sure what had happened. This victory takes his already legendary career one more step up -- now he has four championships, more than his mentor Bob Knight and as many as Kentucky icon Adolph Rupp. Krzyzewski did not want to talk about all that ... he said reminiscing about his own achievements is for another time, once he's retired, once he can look back.
What Krzyzewski did want to talk about is that, after the game, he went into the locker room and looked hard at the players on his team. There was all sorts of emotion. They all realized that they just had won one of the great games ever. They all realized that for the rest of their lives they would be connected by this game and this championship and that final heave that did not go in. And, as everyone quieted down, Krzyzewski said to them in his craggy voice the words he had been waiting all year to say.
He said: "You are a great team."
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