INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Duke did what few teams have been able to against Butler this season: score 60 points.
So what if it was barely over the mark and the Blue Devils had to hold their breath on a last-second miracle try? It was just good enough for a 61-59 win and a fourth national championship.
Speeding up Butler just enough, and hitting the boards hard in the second half, Duke ended Butler's hometown dream with a nail-biting win in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
"We were able to get some shots off screens, get some guys open for good shots," Duke guard Nolan Smith said. "They're a good defensive team and we were able to make some adjustments in the second half."
Butler's magic number this season had been 60. The Bulldogs had held 12 of their previous 13 opponents under 60 points, a stretch that included all five NCAA tournament games.
Duke ended the string by getting a big game from its Big Three — 47 combined points — and dodging a halfcourt heave by Gordon Hayward at the buzzer that nearly fell.
Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith combined for all but 15 of Duke's points in an NCAA semifinal win against West Virginia and carried the load again against Butler. Singler scored 19 points, Scheyer 15 and Smith added 13, giving Duke its first national championship since 2001 and fourth under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The Blue Devils got a tough fight from scrappy Butler, but ended its 25-game winning streak by dictating the pace — just uptempo enough to take the Bulldogs out of their value-every-possession comfort zone.
The Blue Devils didn't get a point on the break, didn't dominate the boards like they usually do. What Duke did do was get points off inbound plays, off staggered screens, on runners in the lane.
"We've got a really good offense," Duke forward Mile Plumlee said. "Butler plays such tough defense, tougher than anything I've seen all season. We just had to make a few adjustments and were able to do it."
Duke's defense wasn't bad, either. The Blue Devils harassed Butler into 34.5 percent shooting overall, a lone 3-pointer in the second half and made Hayward earn eight of his 12 points on free throws.
Hayward still nearly gave Butler the miracle finish nearly everyone in Indianapolis had hoped for. He scored eight points in the second half after struggling in the first and nearly pulling off a "Hoosiers"-esque ending with a halfcourt shot that caromed off the backboard and hit front rim.
It didn't fall, setting up a happy Duke dog pile near center court while several Butler players fell to the floor in disappointment.
"I was standing at half-court and thought it was going and that makes it even more devastating when it rims out," Butler's Matt Howard said while rubbing his eyes. "I think them getting over 60 points was the difference."