As the horn echoed through Lucas Oil Stadium, the national title hung in the air. Hayward's shot bounced off the white square on the backboard, then off the front of the rim.
When the ball finally fell to the ground without falling through the net, most of the 70,390 in attendance -- rooting for tiny Butler to shock the basketball world -- groaned. Behind one basket, the Cameron Crazies went wild. On the floor, recovering from a legal, but painful
"This is a group," Krzyzewski said, "that I just love being with every day."
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, Krzyzewski insisted his focus wasn't on a fourth title. It was on the first one for his current players, many of whom had endured one of the more frustrating stretches of Krzyzewski's storied tenure. On Monday, all that frustration melted away as the Blue Devils survived against sentimental favorite Butler, the team from a tiny school 6.1 miles away that captured the hearts of the nation these past three weeks.
"It's not a game that anybody lost," Krzyzewski said. "Both teams are such winners."
On Monday, the margin between victory and defeat was inches. Had Hayward's shot hit the backboard at a slightly different angle, it would have fallen straight through the net. "I thought it was going in," said Butler's Howard, who played despite suffering concussion-like symptoms after hitting his head in the Bulldogs' Saturday win against Michigan State. "That makes it even a little more devastating."
Butler had a chance to hit a game-winner before the buzzer, but Hayward missed a baseline jumper attempted over Zoubek with four seconds remaining. Zoubek grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made the first free throw but missed the second, setting up Hayward's shot at a miracle.
Had the shot fallen, Hayward would have eclipsed
Hayward, a 6-9 sophomore who was the breakout star of this year's tournament, thought he'd launched a miracle. "Felt good," he said. "Looked good. Just wasn't there."
Hayward finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Singler led Duke with 19 points. Zoubek trumped all rebounders with 10.
This is Duke's first title since 2001. The Blue Devils made 10 Final Fours between 1986 and 2004, but then hit a five-year dry spell after the '04 appearance. That was a source of great consternation on Tobacco Road --especially considering rival North Carolina won national titles in 2005 and 2009 -- but Krzyzewski believed this team had a chance to break the slump.
It's fitting that Zoubek defended both Hayward shots and that the senior grabbed the critical rebound, because Zoubek may have been the player most critical to Duke's ascension. Krzyzewski discovered the ideal lineup before Duke's Feb. 13 win against Maryland when he tabbed Zoubek as the starting center. Using the revamped lineup, the Blue Devils won 15 of their last 16, including 10 consecutive wins to end the season.
Because of Zoubek's prowess on missed Duke shots, Butler coach
Duke, however, could not keep the Bulldogs off the offensive glass in the first half. Butler grabbed 12 first-half offensive rebounds, resulting in 10 second-chance points. Despite shooting 34.2 percent to Duke's 50 percent, Butler only trailed by one at the half.
The teams stayed tight, with neither team holding more than a six-point lead.
With Duke up 56-53,
Duke led 60-55, but two Howard layups slashed the lead to one. With 13.7 seconds remaining, Butler had the ball and a shot at the national title. But Zoubek defended that shot, rebounded the miss and then defended another shot. It was only after he watched the
"One lucky bounce," Zoubek said, "and we might have lost this game."
Krzyzewski was correct, though. No one lost Monday.
"This was a classic," he said. "This was the toughest and the best one."