Duke’s ‘Big 3’ hold on against Butler to win title
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Duke’s “Big Three” weren’t going to be denied the championship they so desperately craved.
As usual, they did most of the work by themselves – then got some timely help from their big man.
The Blue Devils held on to beat Butler 61-59 Monday night for their first national title since 2001, and once again, their three stars did most of the heavy lifting.
Kyle Singler scored 19 points, Jon Scheyer added 15 and Nolan Smith 13. But title No. 4 wasn’t secure until 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek got a hand in Gordon Hayward’s face on a missed shot with 7 seconds left, hit a free throw with 3.6 seconds to go and held his breath as Hayward’s half-court heave at the buzzer clipped off the glass and the rim.
Once the Blue Devils exhaled, they were on top again.
“It’s hard for me to say it, to imagine that we’re the national champions,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told the crowd.
Maybe, but there’s no doubting that the “Big Three” made it all possible.
They had to.
The Blue Devils (35-5) relied on them so heavily all season that there were moments during the championship game when it seemed they might crumble under the weight of their teammates.
The Singler-Scheyer-Smith trio, the nation’s most productive threesome, entered averaging 53.4 points per game and had scored 69 percent of the Blue Devils’ points this season.
So it was no surprise that Duke went to its “Big Three” down the stretch.
With less than 5 minutes left and the Blue Devils leading by one, the ball was inbounded to Scheyer. He swung it to Smith, who found Singler cutting to the left wing and passed to the junior sharpshooter. His jumper swished through to make it 58-55 with 4:46 left.
The Blue Devils scored three more points the rest of the way, all on free throws.
Duke’s bench went scoreless against Butler, and the guys who do the dirty work – Zoubek and forward Lance Thomas – struggled inside. The Bulldogs had outrebounded the Blue Devils by seven at halftime and threatened to become the first team in the tournament to hold a rebounding edge against the biggest team in Coach K’s three decades in Durham.
The Blue Devils eventually eked out a 37-35 edge on the boards – perhaps none bigger than the one Zoubek grabbed after Hayward’s forced fall-away jumper in the final seconds.
That, and Hayward’s last-gasp miss, helped put these Blue Devils in the elite company of players who hung title banners at Cameron Indoor Stadium: Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Battier.
When it was finally over, the Cameron Crazies who made the trip to Hoosier Country broke out the “Four! Four! Four!” chant they usually save to taunt foul-prone opponents.
But this time they weren’t counting whistles. They were counting titles, and they’re only one behind top rival North Carolina, which claimed its fifth tournament crown last year.
Duke fans chanted “One more year” toward Singler, who hasn’t yet decided whether he will return for his senior season.
And when Coach K finally clipped the final piece of championship net, he kissed it and held it aloft for the Duke fans to savor.
“I love this team and it’s our last day together, and what a way to celebrate our last day together,” Krzyzewski said.
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