INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - When Butler’s Gordon Hayward launched his desperation 50-foot shot as the final buzzer sounded, everyone on the court held their breath.
If the three-point shot goes in, Butler beats Duke in one of the most improbable NCAA Tournament upsets ever. If it rims out, Duke claims its fourth national championship.
“There was no doubt I thought the ball was going to drop, or that Gordon was going to get fouled,” said Butler’s Ronald Nored. “I was just sitting there waiting for it to go in.”
The shot hit the glass, and caromed off the rim before bouncing away, giving Duke a 61-59 victory. While the Blue Devils celebrated, Butler players slowly walked off the court.
It was perhaps fitting that the final shot was launched by Butler’s best player. Had it gone in, it would have been on NCAA highlight reels into the next century.
“I just thought, ‘Please don’t,” Duke guard Nolan Smith said of Hayward’s attempt. “It looked good. I was just praying it didn’t go in.”
Butler coach Brad Stevens said he thought the shot had “a chance.”
“Anytime you have a player of Gordon’s calibre 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,” he said.
Butler, a tiny private school in Indianapolis, has no practice gym or athletic dorm and plays in an arena built in 1928.
By comparison, Duke are basketball royalty.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Stevens said. “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.
“But when you coach these guys with their effort, their focus, their determination, you’re at peace with whatever result happens on the scoreboard because you’ve got a group that’s given it every single thing they have.
“These guys did that.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he sympathised with Stevens.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in eight national championship games and this was a classic,” he said. “This was the toughest and the best one.
“To me it was a game that we won, but they didn’t lose.”
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