INDIANAPOLIS -- Have you caught your breath yet?
One way or the other, Butler's improbable run to the NCAA title game was going to come to an end on Monday night in Lucas Oil Stadium. But who could have thought it would end in such incredible fashion? In whose wildest imaginations did this game play out like this? It was the first title game decided by two points or less since 1989. It was a classic. An utter classic. I'll never forget it. Here's why:
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: In a game that promised to be won on Butler's defensive end, where each team's strength would meet, it ended up being Duke's defense that won the day. The Blue Devils were smothering in the second half, slowing down a Butler team that began the game at a torrid pace. Duke did the two most important things when it needed them most: 1) Kept Gordon Hayward in check, and 2) Kept Butler from getting any good looks on the interior. Butler went almost eight minutes in the second half without a bucket, while Duke finished with seven blocks and many more changed shots.
TURNING POINT: Gordon Hayward had two chances to win it, the first of which (when Hayward had the ball at the top of the key with 12 seconds left) was much better than the second (a half-court heave at the buzzer that missed by about three inches). The first was the game's capital-M Moment. Here was Butler's best player on the biggest stage of his life with the ball in his hands and a chance to win the game. He crossed over, dribbled right, met a second defender, stepped back, rose, shot ... and missed. Brian Zoubek rebounded the ball, and with no timeouts left, Butler had to hurry and grab the rebound on the second free throw and heave a half-courter as the buzzer sounded.
There's a reason Butler kept being mentioned in the same breath as "Hoosiers" -- even as grumpy sports writers complained about the comparison -- everything about its run mirrored the things we love about amateur basketball. It literally was the stuff of movies, even if Butler wasn't quite the underdog everyone seemed to think. But it didn't have a movie ending. Quite the opposite.
(Unless that movie is "Little Big League" or "Friday Night Lights." You get the point.)
TURNING POINT II: When Butler couldn't inbound the ball the first time with 13 seconds left, instead having to use its final timeout. With that timeout, maybe the Bulldogs get a better shot in the final seconds. Maybe not. But it couldn't have hurt.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Kyle Singler -- 19 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two assists. Singler was huge. Every time the Devils seemed to need a big shot, he made it. His defense on Hayward was effective. His block on Shelvin Mack in the final minutes saved a basket. Singler arrived in Durham three years ago with as much hype as any Duke recruit in a long time. Monday night, he fulfilled it.
STAT OF THE GAME: 61 points. It's the first time a Butler opponent has broken the 60-point barrier all tournament. It barely happened, and it came at the most inopportune of times.
STAT OF THE GAME II: Seven blocks. The Bulldogs didn't commit many turnovers, and though they didn't shoot particularly well, their 34.5 percent shooting had less to do with an off night than it had to do with Duke's defense. Comparing each team's box scores, blocks -- seven for Duke, zero for Butler -- sticks out. Duke managed to collect itself on the offensive boards in the second half, grabbing eight by the time the game finished. Zoubek, naturally, had six.