Wow. What a game.
In a contest fitting for the wild ride that was the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Duke survived a Gordon Hayward shot from halfcourt as time expired to win their fourth national title by the final score of 61-59. Kyle Singler led all scorers with 19 points and nine rebounds while Jon Scheyer (15 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Nolan Smith (13 points, four assists) also reached double figures as Duke became the first team since Indiana in 1987 to win a national title game without one point from its bench. Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, both of whom were critical throughout the title run both defensively and on the boards, combined for 14 points and 14 rebounds (ten by Zoubek).
"All these guys made big plays," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "I thought Zoubs on his out of bounds defense, then he adjusts, altered the shot, then got the rebound, was so fitting for Zoubek. For Brian to do that, because he really elevated our team over these last six weeks, seven weeks, to where we would have a chance to play and win a national championship."
Butler, who saw its 25-game win streak end, finished with four players scoring in double figures with Hayward and Shelvin Mack scoring 12 apiece to lead the way. In a tournament that's had a number of memorable made shots however, it will be two close misses that remain stuck in the minds of those hoping that the Horizon League champs would find away to win yet another close game. After two layups from Matt Howard, the second of which drew the Bulldogs to within one at 60-59, Butler got the defensive stop they needed and eventually set themselves up for a shot at the lead.
But with the 7-foot-1 Zoubek providing the obstacle, Hayward's baseline fadeaway was inches long, bouncing back into the big man's waiting hands with seven seconds remaining and Butler gave the foul with just over three ticks to go. After making the first Zoubek was instructed by Coach Krzyzewski to miss the second on purpose, and this strategic move very nearly provided a catastrophic outcome for the Blue Devils.
"I thought Gordon's shot had a chance," said Butler head coach Brad Stevens. "The first one looked good the whole way. The last one had a chance. Anytime you have a player of Gordon's caliber and he's got the ball in his hands and he lets it fly on the last attempt, you feel like you got a chance to win." In addition to their performance on the boards, providing Duke their toughest challenge on the glass all tournament, the Bulldogs received ten important points off the bench from Avery Jukes. Matt Howard's foul trouble issues weren't as severe tonight but they were enough to require help from someone and the senior stepped up.
But this was Duke's night in the end, as they fittingly found a way to win in the end. The key for Duke all season has been every player's knowledge (and more importantly) acceptance of their individual roles and how it all fit into the team concept. "It's tough to put words to," said Lance Thomas. "We maxed out our season. We maxed out all our practices. We played in every game that the season had to offer us. To seal the deal at the end, I'm really lost for words on it."
They didn't have the "new" feeling of the 1991 team, the wire-to-wire dominance of the 1992 team or the pro-level talent of the 2001 bunch. But they had heart and toughness, something that still goes a long way despite the flooding of college basketball with players looking at campus as a one-year pit stop on the way to pro riches. Congratulations to the Duke Blue Devils, your 2010 national champions...but be sure to show Butler some love as well.
MOP: F Kyle Singler (Duke)
G Jon Scheyer (Duke)
G Nolan Smith (Duke)
F Gordon Hayward (Butler)
G Shelvin Mack (Butler)