Butler Had Their Shot
They got the chance they wanted and they got the shot they wanted.
One basket away from a stunning, historic national championship, the Butler Bulldogs missed.
Butler star forward Gordon Hayward's mid-range jump shot - a bucket would have given Butler a 61-60 lead with seven seconds left - bounced off the rim.
"It felt good," Hayward. "It looked good. I thought it was a good shot for us. It just didn't go in."
Then, after Duke's Brian Zoubek made one of two free throws for a 61-59 Duke lead, one last chance at a Butler miracle: Hayward launched a halfcourt shot that nearly banked in at the buzzer for the win.
"Any time you have a player like Gordon Hayward and he lets it fly, you think you have a chance to win," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
Some had said it was miracle enough that mid-major Butler, compared to the underdog in the movie Hoosiers, made it to the title game.
But to the Bulldogs, who had won their previous 25 games, just getting here was not the point.
"I hate to lose," Hayward said. "It was a great feeling to get here, but that's not what we wanted. We wanted to win."
They got about as close to winning without winning as you can get.
"We came up one possession short in a game with about 145 possessions," Stevens said. "That's hard to stomach.
"These guys are crushed. This matters. They didn't come in here thinking they were going to roll over and didn't have a chance. They wanted to win."
Butler led 43-42 early in the second half after a three-pointer by guard Ronald Nored. For most of the rest of the half, Duke led, but usually just by two or three.
Even after Duke took a five-point lead, Butler bulldogged back and was within 60-59 in the last minute.
As hard and as smart as Butler plays, it couldn't overcome another poor shooting performance.
Against Michigan State in the semifinal, Butler won 52-50 despite shooting 30.6(PERCENT) and going more than 10 minutes without a field goal in the second half.
Against Duke, the Bulldogs shot 34.5(PERCENT). Hayward (2 of 11) was held to 12 points, as was guard Shelvin Mack (5 of 14). Forward Willie Veasley made just 1 of 9 shots and forward Matt Howard made 3 of 8.
Butler might have been in big trouble in the first half if not for a monumental effort from rather anonymous reserve forward Avery Jukes.
The 6-8 senior forward has given the Bulldogs valuable minutes off the bench this year, subbing for the often-foul-plagued Howard.
But score? Not really. In fact, he's averaged 2.8 points in his career and had just four points in the entire NCAA tournament coming into the title game.
But he made two three-pointers in the first half and led all scorers with 10 points.
So the Butler road ended, with disappointment but lots of good vibes about the journey.
"I told our guys," Stevens said, "that when you coach guys with their effort, their focus, their determination, you're at peace with whatever result happens on the scoreboard because you've got a group that's given it every single thing they have."