x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'Game that we won, but they didn't lose'

Duke lift title even as Butler win hearts and coach Krzyzewski pays a fitting tribute after his side prevail by two points in final thriller.

Duke players celebrate after winning the final.
Duke players celebrate after winning the final.

INDIANAPOLIS // Duke ended Butler's amazing run through the NCAA basketball tournament by beating the gritty underdogs 61-59 to win the national championship on Monday. The title was Duke's fourth but the perennial powerhouse were pushed to the brink by Butler, a tiny Indianapolis school previously unknown on the national stage.

"I've been fortunate enough to be in eight national championship games, and this was a classic," said Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke coach. "This was the toughest and the best one. It was a game that we won, but they didn't lose." Brian Zoubek's foul shot with 3.6 seconds remaining gave Duke a 61-59 lead and when he missed the second attempt, Butler's Gordon Hayward launched a shot from midcourt at the final horn that glanced off the backboard and hit the rim before falling away. "I just thought, 'Please don't'," said Nolan Smith, the Duke guard, of Hayward's potential winner. "It looked good. I was just praying it didn't go in."

Kyle Singler, the Duke junior forward, scored 19 points and was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. "It was the toughest game we played all year," said Jon Scheyer, the Duke guard. "I can't imagine what those guys are feeling like. They gave everything they had, just like we did. It's hard that one of these teams had to feel that way." Butler are a private school about 10km from Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the Final Four. The crowd of 71,000 roared on each Butler basket and groaned when Hayward's final shot misfired.

"All you can ask for as a team and as a programme is to have a shot to win it," said Zach Hahn, the Butler guard. "That's what every team asks for and we were right there, against a great Duke team. "They've got NBA talent and a great coach. A couple of more stops and it was ours." Butler (33-5), whose 25-game winning streak ended on Monday, defeated Syracuse, the West Region top seeds, before knocking off Kansas State, the No 2 seeds, to reach the Final Four, in which they beat Michigan State, the 2009 runners-up, to secure a date in the championship.

"We caught lightning in a bottle and ran with it the last 25 games," said Brad Stevens, the Butler coach. "We just came up one possession short in a game with about 145 possessions. "It's hard to stomach when you're on the wrong end of that." * Reuters