Butler Was One Basket Short
INDIANAPOLIS - 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.
Gordon Hayward's mid-range jump shot - a bucket would have given Butler a 61-60 lead with four seconds left - bounced off the rim.
Then, one last chance at a miracle - after a foul shot gave Duke a 61-59 lead, Hayward got off a heave from halfcourt that nearly banked in for a miracle victory.
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.
They lost 61-59 - snapping their 25-game winning streak - but it was memorable. 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.
It was anybody's game with a few minutes to go.
Even after Duke took a five-point lead, Butler bulldogged its way back into it, and was within 60-59 in the last minute.
Butler coach Brad Stevens insisted early in the tournament, when Bulldogs star Gordon Hayward was not scoring much, that all was well.
Part of the Butler Way, he said, was that when somebody struggles, somebody else steps up.
But, seriously, Avery Jukes?
The 6-8 senior forward has given the Bulldogs valuable minutes off the bench this year, subbing for the often-foul-plagued Matt Howard.
But score? Uh, no. Jukes averaged 2.8 points in his career and had just four points in the NCAA tournament coming into the title game. That's a 0.8 per-game tourney average.
Then, with Hayward held mostly in check by the Duke defense and Howard again taking a seat with foul trouble, Jukes started making like Hoosiers hero Jimmy Chitwood.
He hit two three-pointers, his first two of the tournament, and led all scorers at the half with 10 points. Even when he suffered the embarrassment of missing a wide-open dunk attempt, the ball bounced back to him and he put it in off the glass.
Even amid the tension and the drama of a close championship game, Jukes' teammates on the bench erupted in laughter at Jukes' gaffe.
Duke wasn't laughing, though.
Hayward made just two baskets and scored just four points in the first half, though he did make perhaps the prettiest play of the half, soaring for an offensive rebounding and laying it in as he fell out of bounds.
Butler has made a habit out of confounding the experts, such as when the Bulldogs won the semifinal against Michigan State despite shooting just 30.6% and going nearly 10 minutes in the second half without a field goal.
They did it again Monday night. They shot just 34.2% for the first half - missing 25 of 38 shots - and missed three of four free throws. Yet they trailed by just a point.