You could draw it up a million ways. Dawgs vs. Dukies, David vs. Goliath (economically and in terms of height), Hoosiers vs. Blue Bloods, USA vs. USSR. Ok, maybe we went overboard on that last one, but you get the point. If you are a journalist and cannot find a storyline or angle for this game, you might want to find a different profession. In this corner, the smallest school ever to play in the NCAA Championship, the little engine that could, America’s team, the hometown heroes, Hinkle’s own, the Butler Bulldogs. In the other corner, basketball royalty, the old guard, the goliath not only of this game, but of basketball over the past 20 years, the Duke Blue Devils. What more could you ask for? Being from Indianapolis, and not being as big of a bandwagoner as most in the city, I certainly have a little more to root for than most, but it is the NCAA Championship! If you are not excited as it is, check your pulse, and call the hearse because you are probably dead or nearing it. This game is so big, and such a magnet for storylines that I do not even have to pump it up. You need no encouragement to get excited for this one. Personally, I would say rooting for Duke is next to treason, but maybe that is just me. I will stay unbiased, but please know that we are squarely in Butler’s corner.
Let’s get it started. Should be fun.
Here is how it all went down. Please note that this is being written as the game goes, so if I say something that ends up being extremely ironic, keep in mind that it was not intentional.
Butler clearly wanted to go inside to start the game, giving the ball to Howard on several of the first few possessions, but nothing seemed to want to drop for the Bulldogs. Duke on the other hand started off hot, hitting just about whatever they wanted and using Zoubek to good effect on the offensive glass as everyone suspected. It will remind Butler fans of thee Michigan State game a bit in Duke making shots and Butler just not getting shots to fall early. Duke leads 6-4 at the first TV Timeout after a Scheyer block and sentiments could not be much different among fans. Duke fans are most likely somewhat happy with the way their team is playing though they may soon start to despise the referees, and Butler fans are covering their eyes every time Matt Howard gets the ball. He keeps abusing Brian Zoubek down low and getting open shots, but none have fallen. After a 3-second call, Butler gets the ball back and Duke has elected to use Miles PLumlee on Gordon Hayward, hoping to bother him with the height, and it works on the shot, but we will see how that works in the long run. After a somewhat easy Duke bucket, Butler gets another good luck for Howard, but he clanks the free throws. Nothing can kill Butler’s chances faster than missing free throws. Good defense leads to a Mack trey and Butler is once again looking good. Duke has screamed foul a few times now, but for the most part I do not see it. However, what I do see is Matt Howard picking up a foul. No surprise there, he gets fouls like Sean Connery gets women: At will. Howard out, and it is probably for the best, nothing is falling for him. Looking at Kyle Singler shoot free throws, it occurs to me that he might be the ugliest player in college basketball. He is pretty good, but only a mother could love that mug. The Butler players do not look especially comfortable on their stage as Willie Veasley gets fooled by the Duke fans’ 5-4-3-2-1 count when the shot clock was at 12, but Gordon Hayward looks like he is more than ready for the stage with a nice put back to make it 10-9 Duke. If Butler is going to win, they are going to need to hit some threes, and Zach Hahn is going to need to hit some shots. Bam, Zach Hahn. Butler needs this kid to start stroking if they are going to have the firepower to take this one to the promised land. Singler answers with a triple of his own and it is 16-14 with Nolan Smith heading to the line and 2 fouls on Ronald Nored. Good game so far, and Butler has only given up a couple of offensive rebounds, which is impressive when you consider their center is 4 inches shorter than Duke’s and Butler’s center is currently on the bench.
It bears reminding that Butler’s enrollment is 4,200 and is not loaded with cash. How can you not love the Bulldogs? Back to the action, Butler has put Gordon Hayward on Nolan Smith with Nored out, and Shawn Vanzant on Scheyer. Speaking of Vanzant, give him 3. Duke answers and after a Butler putback, it is 18-18. Forgive me if it seems like I am Butler-centric. It is because I am. Turnover Scheyer turns it over for the first time in a couple thousand years and Butler gets another basket, 20-18. Right on cue, Matt Howard picks up his 2nd foul. The kid is like clockwork, it is incredible. Trying to throw off the order of the universe that Howard has established, Scheyer turns it over again and it looks like Butler’s defense is actually holding Duke in line fairly well for now. 7:54 left and CBS goes to a commercial, and yes, the Butler Bulldogs lead 20-18. The Coke Zero commercial with the smug guy narrating comes on and I immediately think he looks like he went to Duke. Sorry, I cannot help it, Butler hysteria has gripped Indianapolis and every able-bodied citizen has thrown their support behind the Dawgs. I am no exception, sue me.
CBS brings up that Butler is shooting 33% and leading somehow. Classic Butler. Zoubek pushes Hayward into the paint and scores. Classic Duke. Neither team is shooting particularly well at the moment, but credit the defenses, not just poor shooting. Both teams are contesting every shot. Scheyer converts one of 2 from the line and follows it up with a three. Scheyer always seemed the guard most likely to give Butler issues, so it is little surprise he is leaving his mark on the game.
Perfect example of Duke’s athleticism. Miles Plumlee is defending Mack and finds a way to poke it away from him. I bet there are not many 6’10 guys in the Horizon League who can do that. Butler is also not getting many calls. I guess money talks. Just kidding, I am not alleging Duke is paying the refs. I realize that this makes it sound like I am back-handedly alleging it, but I really am not, the calls just aren’t going Butler’s way.
Avery Jukes opens the scoring back up for Butler, and Butler fans are in a state of shock. He never hits shots. Dawkins clanks a three for Duke, and Gordon Hayward gets himself re-involved with an easy bucket. Another miss for Duke and all of a sudden, Avery Jukes is on fire, sinking the three in the corner. Duke answers, just like always and it is 28-27 Duke with 2:40 left in the half. Butler is still not getting calls, but given their shooting, lack of calls and Ronald Nored and Matt Howard sitting on the bench for much of the half, Butler has got to be happy so far.
No man gets more bounces than Jon Scheyer, no one. Duke leads by 3 and Gordon Hayward forces the refs hands by grabbing an offensive rebound and getting hacked. Headed to the line. Just kidding, they called it a jump ball. Yeesh. I realize I am a homer, but I think everyone can agree that Duke is getting the breaks. The ball stays on Butler’s end and Avery Jukes misses a dunk. That is more like the guy I know, but he gets the offensive rebound and puts it in. Duke by 1 and Singler’s body language is horrible, he just looks like he is waiting for the call. I can’t blame him, he has been getting them so far. Smith hits a 3 and Duke leads by 4.
AVERY JUKES IS ON FIRE. I knew someone had to step up for Butler to have a shot, but I never would have picked that man to be Avery Jukes. I never thought I would write these words together, but Avery Jukes, X-Factor. As I write it, Clark Kellogg says the same, and after Nolan Smith misses the front end of the one-and-one it is 33-32 Duke at the half.
Butler has got to be ecstatic. Nored and Howard missed considerable time in the first half, Avery Jukes is their leading scorer, the referees took some liberties with the calls in Duke’s favor, and Butler is down one. if I tell you all these things pre-game you would bet Butler would be down 15, but they are only down 1. Duke, on the other hand cannot be too unhappy with the first half. They played alright, but did not get the boards they usually do and did not shoot it extremely well. No one shoots well against Butler, though because their D is so phenomenal.
I would like to take this break in the action to dispel the notion that Butler is a cinderella. They have lost only 4 games all year, have won 25 in a row, and were ranked #11 pre-season. They are not George Mason, they were a 5 seed. So while the economic difference and prestige difference are huge between Duke and Butler, lets not act like Butler is some lucky team to be here. They are really good, and if you cannot see this after watching the first half, you do not know basketball.
CBS is showing the Da’Sean Butler injury during his interview and it reminds me of something I wanted to bring up. Bob Huggins, much maligned for being a curmudgeon and kind of a scumbag, kneeling over Da’Sean Butler and hugging him on the floor will be imprinted on my mind when I think of Huggy Bear. Yeah, he is still not the greatest guy, but sometimes you get a glimpse of someone you didn’t know existed, and that was the case with Huggins. He may have done more for himself nationally than if he had won the Championship this year. Kudos, Bob Huggins.
A few things to look for in the second half: Look for a fresh Ronald Nored to really do a good job on Nolan Smith going forward. Kyle Singler or Jon Scheyer is going to have to pick up his slack. Before the game, I would say Brian Zoubek’s rebounding could pick up the slack, but Butler leads Duke in rebounding by 12 at the half, which has got to go right up there in the most unexpected stats of the first half, right next to Jukes with 10 points.
Butler gets off to a good start avoiding a call and hitting a couple free throws to give Butler a lead. As expected at the half, Singler hits a three, picking up slack early, hitting the three and putting Duke back up. Both teams have been fairly economical so far, without too many bad shots being taken by either side. Matt Howard finally gets a field goal with a nice look inside, and promptly picks up his third foul. That man is amazing, no one picks up fouls like he does. I heard he picked up a foul walking to the hotel. Ronald Nored is back, too, laying one in and keeping it tied at 38. Duke starts getting those offensive boards, but Lance Thomas falls down and travels, leaving him without reward for his rebounding. A very good play by Mack is countered by Nolan Smith and Ronald Nored turns it over, leading to a TV Timeout. Tied at 40. probably not keeping Duke under 60 today, but they are tied. Tied. I saw a stat on ESPN about how Duke spends something like $360,000 per player in player expenses. Butler spends something like $340,000 total. I enjoyed that one. Duke would like to start running a little bit more, but Butler is doing a great job getting back and is really making them execute.
Great defense out of the timeout by Vanzant, knocking it away from Smith with only one second remaining on the shot clock. Unfortunately it was all undone by a hope and a prayer shot from Miles PLumlee, followed by a Scheyer put-back. Also, this should not be a surprise, but Matt Howard picked up his 4th foul. No surprises there. Duke leads 42-40. Nored for three after some good passing from Butler and they have a lead. Just as they do, Jukes picks up his 3rd foul and Butler succumbs to a rare defensive lapse as Singler drains the three. Butler calls time out to talk things over as Duke leads 45-43.
Avery Jukes does not care if you say he is in foul trouble, he cannot be stopped. He draws #3 on Zoubek and gets to the line. Nice to hear about Jukes’ foundation. I guess when you can’t knock down a jumper (this game excluded), you need to do something to help the world (sarcastic). Misses both free throws. That is more like it. Zoubek tower over Butler and gets an easy bucket off an in-bounds play and makes it 47-43 Duke. Very tough charge call against Hayward. I have my opinions on the call, but it got called. Hayward gets his revenge, drawing Zoubek’s 4th foul and getting to the line. That could be big, although it also gives Duke a chance to go more athletic and guard Jukes more easily. Still, it is always a good thing when you get the opponent’s 7 foot center in foul trouble, especially when your tallest player on the floor is 6’8″.
Hayward looks typically unflappable right now. He has not had a great game, but he hits his free throws and gets Butler back within two. Lance Thomas does not care and gets a mini-hook to go to push it back to 4. As correctly pointed out by the commentators, Hayward is feeling aggressive and feels like he can get inside as he goes again and gets right back to the line. Count it, count it. 49-47.
News flash: Duke is tall. Lob on the in-bounds and it is 51-47, pushing it back to 4. A couple good defensive series followed by Mack balling out and draining one from the short corner. Coach K decides to go back to Zoubek to combat Butler’s small lineup. Interesting, let’s see how that goes. Still 51-49 and it has been close all game. Expect a good one coming down the stretch.
Scheyer. And 1. Ouch. Howard comes back in at the 7:58 mark. I am currently taking bets on “Minutes until he fouls out”. Over under is 3 minutes. The lead is 5, but Howard shows he is fresh from he foul trouble as he catches a lob down low and gets to the line, where he is usually good but has struggled early in this game. He gets both to cut it back to a one-possession game. Stevens wisely subs out Howard, throwing off my bet, but saving his big man from certain doom. Scheyer to the line on Nored’s foul and it is clear that if Duke is going to win, Scheyer is going to be the reason. He hits two and it is 56-51 Duke. Singler objects to my last statement and blocks Mack down low, denying a sure bucket. Duke has quietly dominated the boards this half, the size wearing on Butler just a bit. Butler gets a break as Duke grabs another, but Zoubek chucks it to the back court. Butler ball, and they need a bucket here. No more droughts like against Michigan State if they want to win. Butler is doing work at the line now, so while they are not scoring from the field they are staying within striking distance. Howard hits 2 more free throws and gets subbed out. The crowd rises to its feet, Butler 53, Duke 56. Nored comes up with the steal and throws it to Hayward deep, who gets hacked by Lance Thomas (wisely). At least the refs called it. Not a flagrant, but that is 4 on Thomas and Butler is once again going back to the line.
Hayward hits both, and we have a 1 point game as Lucas Oil Stadium turns into Lucas Oil Zoo. Coach K wisely calls a time out, sensing the shift. A friend texts me and asks “Over/Under on Hayward getting laid tonight?” Take the over. He misses the next shot, Singler sinks a three and after a Stevens timeout, Hayward misses a tough look . We are under 4 minutes and Duke is still doing very well on the boards, getting plenty of second chances. Interesting music choice going to the break after a foul on Smith. By interesting I mean “a little off, but supposed to be climactic”. CBS understands the magnitude and quality of the game.
Nolan Smith gets both free throws and pushes the lead to 5, 60-55. That makes the first team to score 60 against Butler. 1/7 FG in the last 8 minutes is not going to win you Championships. The fact that they are in striking distance is completely thanks to free throw shooting. Mack’s floater does not go and things are starting to look bad for Butler. They have gone ice-cold at the worst of times.
Howard breaks the drought and by some miracle, Butler is only down three after going 8 minutes with little to no work from the field. Smith misses, and Mack misses the pull-up 3 that would have torn the city down. Howard gets the board and after working some offense gets the bucket. One. Point. Game. Timeout Duke. 49 seconds left.
Duke should go two-for-one, but I doubt they will. If they do, more power to them. Clark Kellogg agrees with me. That is always a good sign. Butler ball, they will have the last shot to wint he Championship. Get out your paper bags.
Hayward drives. Fade awayyyyyyyyyy. No good, even though it looked great all the way. Easily could have gone in, but it just didn’t. Gave over. Zoubek hits the first one, intentionally hits the second one and…
“OHHH IT ALMOST WENT IN!!!!!!!! ALMOST WENT IN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DUKE ARE THE KINGS OF THE DANCE!!!!”
Hayward rims out from midcourt. And by rims out, I really mean rims out. Wow. What a game. Easily the best NCAA Championship I have ever seen. You know it is good when your team loses in heartbreaking fashion and you still feel it is a great game. Wow. Duke is the National Champion for 2010.
Stay posted for the game recap (as compared to this, the game itself).