The Duke Blue Devils are national champions.
Surviving everything that Butler could muster in front of a hometown crowd in one of the closest, most exhilarating national championship games in history, Duke hung on for a 61-59 victory that gives coach Mike Krzyzewski his fourth national title.
It's the first for Duke since 2001.
The Blue Devils could have made the final seconds a little less agonizing, but Kyle Singler missed a jumper with 38 seconds remaining and the ball eventually bounced off the foot of Brian Zoubek and out of bounds.
The Bulldogs couldn't inbound the ball with 13.6 seconds remaining and had to call a timeout, then got the ball to Gordon Hayward on their second try. He drove to his right and took a fall-away jumper along the baseline over the 7-foot-1 Zoubek that hit the back of the iron and bounced out.
Zoubek pulled down the rebound and was fouled with 3.6 seconds remaining, and he hit the first foul shot and before missing the second on purpose. Hayward then pulled down the rebound and managed to get to midcourt before unloading a shot that bounced off the backboard, hit the front of the rim, then caromed to the floor.
The dream for the upstarts is over, while another banner is headed for the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Butler will have the last shot with 13.6 seconds remaining, trailing Duke 60-59.
Brian Zoubek got away with throwing Butler forward Matt Howard to the floor when the Blue Devils had the ball, but in another instance of karma, the ball ended up bouncing off the Duke center's foot and out of bounds.
Butler worked for an open shot but the ball eventually was tipped out of bounds by a Duke player, and coach Brad Stevens called a timeout to set up the final shot.
Matt Howard is making his mark!
The big guy for Butler who was questionable to play after sustaining a mild concussion against Michigan State has scored back-to-back baskets inside to get the gritty Bulldogs within 60-59 with under a minute to go in Indianapolis.
Shelvin Mack missed an open 3-pointer that would have tied it, but found Howard wide open underneath moments later for the easy bucket, and Duke called a timeout.
Butler hasn't hit a field goal in roughly six minutes, getting all six of its points since the 9:30 mark on free throws by Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward.
Kyle Singler's jumper moments ago was only the second basket for Duke since the 10:24 mark of the second half. It gave the Blue Devils a 58-55 lead, though, and Nolan Smith will be heading to the line for a pair of free throws with just over 3 minutes left in the national championship game.
The close game would seem to favor Butler, which is 10-1 this season in games decided by five points or fewer. That includes a 52-50 win over Michigan State, a 63-59 win over Syracuse and a 54-52 win over Murray State in the NCAA tournament.
Boos rained down in Lucas Oil Stadium after Gordon Hayward took the ball on a fastbreak and was hacked across the arms by Lance Thomas, who appeared to be going for the ball.
The referees checked the video to see whether it was a flagrant foul, but they ended up deciding that Hayward would simply shoot two free throws.
It was the fourth foul on Thomas, though, and Brian Zoubek also has four for Duke.
Hayward made both free throws — he's 8 for 8 for the game — and the gritty Bulldogs were within 56-55 with about 5 minutes to go.
Jon Scheyer is making up for an off night from beyond the arc by doing the little things — scrapping for loose balls, tracking down rebounds, dishing out assists (he has five of them) and scoring three points the old-fashioned way.
Scheyer just hit a short, fall-away bank shot moments ago and hit the free throw when play resumed to push Duke ahead 54-49 with 7:58 remaining.
Duke's "Big Three" of Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are following up huge games against West Virginia with another gem. Scheyer has 13 points, Singler has 17 and Smith 11, accounting for 41 of the Blue Devils' 54 points.
Gordon Hayward must sense he has to start scoring for Butler, driving to the basket moments ago, only to get called for charging when Duke guard Jon Scheyer stepped in front of him.
It was a bang-bang play that could have gone either way.
Hayward got the call on the Bulldogs' next possession when he went driving down the lane and was bopped over the head by 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek. It was Zoubek's fourth foul, putting him on the bench with just more than 11 minutes left in the second half.
Willie Veasley and Matt Howard sure aren't doing much for Butler, by the way. They're a combined 2 for 14 from the field and have missed all four of their 3-point attempts. They've also accounted for nearly half of the Bulldogs' seven turnovers and five personal fouls.
Kyle Singler just hit a 3-pointer after Butler had pulled ahead, his third of the game. The junior forward is carrying Duke at this point, with 15 points and six rebounds.
Duke leads 45-43, but the Bulldogs should be pleased to be this close considering they've gotten very little production from Gordon Hayward. Butler's best player is 2 of 7 from the field and has missed both of his 3-point attempts, accounting for just six points.
Shelvin Mack has 10 points for the Bulldogs, while Avery Jukes — hardly known for putting up points — also has 10.
Matt Howard checked back in moments ago with three fouls and promptly picked up his fourth about 30 seconds later. He headed back to the bench for Butler.
It was a silly foul, too, scrapping for a rebound he had no chance of getting.
Duke hasn't made a point of trying to get the ball inside since the first couple of minutes, instead settling for short jumpers and 3-pointers — few of which are falling. It will be interesting to see whether that approach changes with Howard back on the bench.
And with Butler leading 43-42 with 13 minutes left.
Duke is starting to look weary, allowing Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack to score on a pair of almost uncontested layups and give Butler a 40-38 lead.
Nolan Smith answered with a tough bucket inside, though, knotting the game 40-all at the first media timeout of the second half. Through 25 minutes, we're no closer to deciding a national champion in Indianapolis.
The Blue Devils have started to cool off from the field, especially beyond the arc, where they're 4 of 15 for the game. Smith is 1 for 5 and Jon Scheyer is 1 for 4.
That's good news for the Bulldogs, who are having their own problems from the field. They're shooting just 36.6 percent overall and are 5 of 14 from 3-point range.
Whichever team can heat up over the final 15 minutes is likely to win.
It's hardly surprising in this back-and-forth game that Butler would score the first points of the second half, pulling back ahead on a pair of free throws by Gordon Hayward.
Kyle Singler came back to hit another 3-pointer for Duke, making it 11 lead changes in the game. Singler has hit a pair from beyond the arc and has a game-high 12 points.
Duke leads 36-34 with 18:37 remaining.
It's difficult to dissect where Butler winning the national championship would fall in the spectrum of unlikely winners. After all, the tournament has grown and evolved over the years, and it's not as if the Bulldogs came out of nowhere.
They're a No. 5 seed and have won 25 straight games.
But remember for a moment that chalk dominated the brackets last year, when everybody correctly assumed that North Carolina would run roughshod through the tournament. It was the first time that all 12 of the Nos. 1-3 seeds made it to the round of 16.
The last team seeded fifth to reach the title game was Indiana in 2002, when Maryland finally gave Gary Williams his title. Before that it was Florida as a No. 5 in 2000, when Michigan State cut down the nets in the title game.
So who actually won the championship game that could match up with Butler?
Go all the way back to 1988, when sixth-seeded Kansas won the title. Or if you think any team with Danny Manning shouldn't be considered an underdog, then try 1985, when eighth-seeded Villanova defeated No. 1 seed Georgetown to win the championship.
Now that's improbable.
The first half has come to an end in Indianapolis, and anybody who thought the magical run by Butler would come to a crashing end early against Duke was sorely mistaken.
Duke 33, Butler 32.
Twenty minutes left to decide the national champion.
The Bulldogs are in the game mainly because of their bench, which managed just five points against Michigan State in the semifinals but has come up big against the Blue Devils. Senior guard Avery Jukes is making the most of the biggest game of his career, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and scoring 10 first-half points.
Rebounding has also been a key for the smaller Bulldogs, who have scrapped their way to a 21-17 edge. That number is even more impressive considering they outrebounded the Blue Devils 16-7 over the final 10 minutes of the first half.
That has helped Butler offset a torrid shooting pace by Duke, which is 13 of 26 from the field and 4 of 9 from beyond the arc.
The Bulldogs came out of a wisely called timeout by coach Brad Stevens to answer an 8-0 Duke run with a 7-0 spurt of their own, with senior Avery Jukes hitting a jumper and a 3-pointer sandwiched around a basket by Gordon Hayward.
As good as Butler has been, remember that most of these guys are coming back next season. Jukes, Willie Veasley and little-used Nick Rodgers are the only seniors.
Gordon Hayward is only a sophomore, and despite being an NBA prospect, could very well make the decision to return for his junior year. Shelvin Mack will also be a junior next year, and Matt Howard will be back as a senior.
By contrast, Duke has a number of seniors: Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and reserve guard Jordan Davidson. Junior forward Kyle Singler might also test the NBA waters.
Duke leads 33-32 with 3 seconds left in the first half.
Butler coach Brad Stevens called a timeout after Duke put together an 8-0 run to take a 26-20 lead with about 5 minutes left in the first half.
Brian Zoubek began the spurt with a basket inside, and Jon Scheyer made one of two foul shots before draining a 3-pointer off an assist by Nolan Smith. Kyle Singler followed with a layup of his own, forcing Stevens to call the timeout.
Butler prefers low-scoring games and generally doesn't score points in bunches, so it has to make sure the Blue Devils don't get too far in front. Remember what happened to West Virginia when the Duke lead reached double figures in the semifinals.
Apparently, the officials are going to allow these guys to play. Or the NCAA picked up a couple of referees from the UFC.
Butler guard Willie Veasley took it to the rack moments ago and was body-checked to the floor, though no whistles blew. Duke forward Kyle Singler ended up with the ball in his hands, then got bear-hugged by a Butler player before he retreated on defense.
Maybe it was a makeup call, or perhaps the official popped the whistle out of his throat, but Shelvin Mack earned a foul on Duke guard Jon Scheyer on the Bulldogs' following possession for what amounted to a love-tap.
So much for consistency.
An 8-0 run gives Duke a 26-20 lead with 5:08 left in the first half.
Matt Howard is another guy with a propensity for getting into foul trouble, and the Butler big man just picked up his second and checked out with about 8½ minutes left in the first half.
The Bulldogs are really getting after Duke in the halfcourt, forcing four turnovers already. Coach K said before the game that the Bulldogs' defense was his biggest concern, especially how active they are with their hands.
The crowd rocked Lucas Oil Stadium at the most recent media timeout with the mid-major darlings on top of Duke, 20-18. Shelvin Mack has led the way with eight points for Butler.
Kyle Singler has seven for Duke.
Duke center Brian Zoubek was treated by a trainer during a timeout, with a piece of gauze held over what appeared to be a small cut on his forehead.
Zoubek is back on the court and logging some heavy minutes early.
The big man has gotten into foul trouble before, but he's playing a smart first half, which should allow him to play more aggressively over the final 20 minutes.
Matt Howard's head might be OK, but his free throw stroke sure isn't.
The Butler big guy has missed three of his first four attempts, and if the Bulldogs want to stick with the Blue Devils, they'd better make good on their freebies.
Or keep hitting those 3-pointers.
Shelvin Mack is 2 for 2 from beyond the arc and Zach Hahn came off the bench to knock one down, helping the Bulldogs edge ahead 12-11. The Blue Devils answered behind Kyle Singler, though, and lead 16-14 with 11:05 left in the first half.
One of the big problems already for Butler is rebounding. The Blue Devils' significant size advantage has already allowed them to get a couple of second chances, and they have a 10-5 edge on the glass midway through the first half.
Nolan Smith has already hit his first couple of baskets for Duke, although the Bulldogs responded with a pair of hoops of their own to make it 6-4 at the first media timeout.
Smith might be having the most charmed three weeks of his entire career. He scored 19 in a semifinal victory over West Virginia and had 29 points in a victory over Baylor in the round of eight. Those two masterful performances came after a 15-point outing against Purdue and 20 against California.
The athletic guard has the hot hand from the outside, but 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek is already asserting himself inside. He has a couple of rebounds and has kept a couple of other missed shots alive, and Duke seems to be intent on running its offense through him.
So much for everything running smoothly before the championship game.
Butler guard Ronald Nored was the last guy to take the floor because NCAA officials had to stick the championship game patch on his jersey.
The Bulldogs' Matt Howard sure looks OK to start. He got the ball in his hands on their first possession and got to the free throw line, where he made one of two to strike the first blow for Butler.
Blue II is worked up for the game, too.
The Butler mascot barked throughout introductions and had to be restrained by his handler, which was also the case before the Bulldogs' semifinal victory over Michigan State.
Maybe it's a good omen.
The bulldog has been making the media rounds all weekend and continues to tweet about his experiences at http://twitter.com/ButlerBlue2. He posted a picture of himself at Lucas Oil Stadium about 15 minutes ago.
Speaking of Coach K ...
There have been some rumors and anonymous sources saying that incoming Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire, would offer Krzyzewski $12 million to $15 million per season to take over the beleaguered NBA franchise.
Krzyzewski said through a spokesman that he hasn't been contacted by the Nets and "wouldn't have any interest in the job." The Duke coach had a brief flirtation with the Los Angeles Lakers job a few years ago, but has generally rejected NBA overtures.
Speaking after a victory against Maryland on Feb. 13, Krzyzewski joked that "no one's contacted me, and if they do, I think 'nyet' would be easy for me to say."
Butler guard Shelvin Mack said moments ago that he is "100 percent" after a bout with the stomach flu, which few people even realized he had because of the much more public injury to Matt Howard.
Mack is the team's second-leading scorer, one of Butler's top 3-point shooters and can handle the ball if the Blue Devils slap on a press. His play will be critical for the Bulldogs.
Howard also said he'll be ready to go after sustaining what is thought to have been a mild concussion against Michigan State on Saturday night. Howard is the Bulldogs' third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, and the only guy who can bang with Duke's inside guys.
The Blue Devils should have a reason to be wary of a young upstart like Butler, especially if it begins to look through the history section of its own media guide.
Back in 1990 and 1991, when the Duke dynasty was still taking shape, Coach K faced Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV twice in the Final Four. That was when the Rebels really were Rebels and Duke came off as the good guy.
Led by Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, UNLV ran Duke out of the arena, 103-73, in the 1990 final. But the next year, behind Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, Duke won in the semis on the way to the first of two straight national titles. The Blue Devils added another in 2001 and, as the years have passed, the perception has flipped.
Now, the Blue Devils are the team that is being hunted. Krzyzewksi can win his fourth title, matching Adolph Rupp and putting him behind only John Wooden on the career list.
"You try not to go through too much," Coach K said moments ago, when asked what he told his team. "Just let them be themselves, not try to be somebody else tonight."
Good advice, because being Duke is usually good enough.
The popular thing to do before a big game is to compare the matchups.
They go overwhelmingly in favor of the Blue Devils.
The front line of 7-foot-1 Brian Zoubek and three 6-foot-10 guys dwarfs anything that Butler can put on the floor. That includes 6-8 forward Matt Howard, who has been dealing with the effects of the "mildest of mild concussions," a team official said.
Duke guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith shoot the ball better than Butler point guard Ronald Nored — who generally doesn't shoot. At all. And the inside-outside play of Kyle Singler creates matchup problems for everyone wearing Bulldogs blue.
Just about the only place where Butler matches up is with Gordon Hayward, who has become a star during this magical March run. He has decent size, can shoot it from outside and has the ability to drive if Zoubek or the other Duke bigs extend to the perimeter.
Then there are the coaches. Brad Stevens is a former marketing official who decided to follow his passion by becoming a basketball coach. He's only 33 years old, or, the same age that Mike Krzyzewski was when he took over the Blue Devils 30 years ago.
Will experience factor into the outcome? Will the size, athleticism and talent of the Blue Devils win the day? Will the edge in the individual matchups really matter?
Because quite frankly, very little has gone according to script during this tournament.
There are certainly plenty of distractions that come with playing for a national title about 10 minutes from campus.
Class is apparently one of them.
Less than 12 hours before playing in the most important game of their lives, several Butler players were sitting in classrooms. After their morning classes, they headed over to the arena for a shootaround, then stuck around downtown until the tip, which is scheduled for 9:21 p.m.
Star forward Gordon Hayward — the only big NBA prospect of the bunch — said he had four classes scheduled for Monday and was happy to "try to keep things normal."
The Bulldogs won't have that problem on Tuesday. University president Bobby Fong, who crowd-surfed after one of the victories in the NCAA tournament, announced at a downtown pep rally earlier in the day that all classes would be canceled.
"We're not crazy," Fong told the crowd.
The big story line the past couple of days has been whether Butler big man Matt Howard will be able to play against the Blue Devils, after he banged his head on the floor during the Bulldogs' semifinal victory over Michigan State.
Howard has shown lingering effects from a concussion and he's been listed as probable for the game. He's expected to play if he remains symptom-free.
Howard joined his teammates in a shootaround about an hour before the game, and team spokesman Jim McGrath said Howard participated in an early afternoon shootaround at Lucas Oil Stadium, then returned for the late session.
The underdog Bulldogs need the 6-foot-8 Howard to help contend with Duke inside. The Blue Devils have 7-1 center Brian Zoubek and three 6-10 players, including the Plumlee brothers.
The national championship game is minutes from tipping off, and not many folks predicted this matchup when they were filling out their brackets a few weeks ago.
The cute, "Hoosiers"-like story of the hometown Butler Bulldogs — who play home games in Hinkle Fieldhouse, where parts of the move were filmed — against the big, bad Blue Devils of Duke, with their storied tradition, Cameron Crazies and intimidating front line.
It's a school that has watched quite a few national championship games on television against a school that has won three of them in the past two decades. A school that claims cerebral former students like Kurt Vonnegut against one that could field an all-star team of former players that would include Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Jay Williams, Bobby Hurley and on and on.
Oddsmakers have the Blue Devils favored by 7½ points, but what have the Bulldogs cared about who is favored so far? They certainly didn't when they beat big-name programs such as Michigan State, Kansas State and Syracuse on their march through March Madness.
The programs aren't that different, though. Both pride themselves on rosters full of brain matter, both are entirely devoid of one-and-done stars, both go about things the right way, rather than hiring mercenary coaches or cutting corners.
Perhaps that is what makes the matchup all the more intriguing.
So make sure that recliner is in the upright and locked position one more time, the pizza, wings and beverages are close at hand, and the remote control is firmly hidden from the wife (or husband) begging to watch "Dancing With the Stars."
It's time for some hoops.