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Duke Holds Off Butler to Win National Championship


That was Gordon Hayward's halfcourt shot, bouncing off the rim.

And that was midnight, sounding on the Cinderella story of Butler.

Hail Duke. The killjoy.

So you were here for a fairy tale?

Reality came Monday night with a shot that could have been the greatest in the history of the Final Four - until the instant it banked onto the rim, and then bounced away.

The facts of life were 47 points from Duke's Big Three, and two points too few from the people's choice.

Hard truths were a fourth national championship for Mike Krzyzewski, and a 61-59 game that ended up the way everyone expected. Barely.

But reality had to fight for its life. Know that old saying, how nobody remembers who finishes second?

They will this time.

Can two teams own one shining moment?

They did this time.

Duke rightfully gets the confetti, even if among upset lovers, the Blue Devils were like a skunk at a wedding.

But Monday night will do nothing to lessen the majesty of Butler's run. The Bulldogs, a testament to pluck and perspective, changed the way the smaller names on the marquee look at their possibilities in March, and even April.

It took 15 lead changes and six ties to beat them.

The Bulldogs shot 34 percent. Duke could not put them away.

Butler went from 9:30 to 1:42 of the second half without a field goal. Duke's lead still wobbled.

Beset by foul troubles, Butler sometimes used a lineup with one player taller than 6-3. It looked like a Boy Scout picnic in a Blue Devil forest. But Duke could not break free.

It came to the end, Hayward having two shots in the final four seconds, one a fall-away jumper from the baseline, another a half-court prayer. Both nearly went in.

He was very nearly Jimmy Chitwood.

This was very nearly Hoosiers II.

Only, it wasn't.

"Felt good. Looked good," Hayward said later. "Just wasn't there."

"I was just sitting down," teammate Ronald Nored said, "waiting for it to go in."

It took every ounce of what Duke is supposed to be - all those Final Four trips, all that prestige and power -- to finally subdue a team too short, from a school too small, with a coach too young.

Happy ending or not, the Bulldogs' message is undeniable. The line is more blurred than ever between first class and coach in college basketball.

"The thing that should be known about this game," Butler coach Brad Stevens said, "is that anything can happen in a basketball game."

And as a bonus, their legacy will include being the name attached to the annual question for capable upstarts.

Who's going to be this year's Butler?

(If the Bulldogs, with four starters back, manage to shoo richer suitors away from their coach, keep all their underclassmen, and add a new weapon or two, next year's Butler might be Butler).

That will mean something to them later. But not Monday night.

"It's hard to stomach when you're on the wrong end of that," Stevens said. "They're crushed."

"I hate losing," Hayward said. "One of the worst feelings I have is losing."

Butler's charm should not cloud how Monday upgraded the standing of one Mike Krzyzewski. Consider his journey over three decades. He has gone from the guy with a funny name to a winner, then a champion, then the face of a dynasty. And now he has pushed to the very upper pantheon of his profession.

Four championships? He nearly has as many titles to his name as consonants. He's past Bob Knight and tied with Adolph Rupp. Saint Wooden's 10 titles are somewhere up there in the haze.

"This was the toughest," he said.

Might this have been his last? He is 63. Not that he's planning for the Blue Devils to fade away soon, even as he's turned down a Russian billionaire with his checkbook open.

Coaching the New Jersey Nets: $12 million to $15 million.

Maintaining the Duke empire: Priceless.

A championship lasts forever.

But in this case, second place will echo, too.

We can never say never again about anything or anyone in the NCAA Tournament. Not so long as there is a memory of Butler.

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