In a tournament filled with confusing coaching decisions and bizarre plays, it’s safe to say Duke dodged a bullet when Gordon Hayward’s potential game-winning halfcourt heave fell off the front of the rim.
The Blue Devils edged Butler 61-59 in a grueling contest Monday night in front of a raucous crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium. In a game featuring smothering defense by both sides, Duke got one more big stop than Butler. That, along with a few inches, was the difference.
Leading 60-59, Duke played 30 seconds of smothering defense before forcing a difficult shot by Hayward. Brian Zoubek rebounded the miss and was fouled. The senior made the first free throw but intentionally missed the second. Hayward grabbed the rebound and had a decent look at what would have been a unbelievably historic shot.
Had Hayward connected, one of the most legendary coaches in the history of college basketball would have been scrutinized for inexplicably stupid strategy.
There was absolutely no good reason to intentionally miss the second free throw. None whatsoever.
Zoubek’s intentional miss created a scrambled situation that didn’t allow Duke to matchup. It prevented the Blue Devils from having a chance to foul to prevent a 3-point shot–what would have potentially been a tying 3-point shot instead of a winning 3-point shot.
Butler’s smothering defense and blue-collar style gives teams around the country hope. In an era of parity, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament isn’t that difficult. The recipe is simple: Commitment on the defensive end, mental strength and physical toughness.
The Bulldogs inability to shoot from the perimeter, something they struggled with late in the regular season and throughout the entire NCAA Tournament, proved to be all that prevented them from winning it all.
Duke showed toughness and resiliency that had been absent from the program in recent years. Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer took the ball to the rim aggressive and fought through Butler’s grabbing, holding halfcourt defense.
Unlike Butler’s previous opponents, Duke didn’t get frustrated. They kept on fighting, all the way to the final seconds.
In NCAA Tournament proved to be one of the strangest in recent memory, it seems fitting that Duke’s toughness is what carried them to the National Championship.
Now who’s excited for a 96 team tournament?