Duke 61, Butler 59, FINAL: Duke wins it, and anything I write about the final minute will not do justice to it.
We will be up all night writing, so be sure to check back at dukechroniclesports.com for much, much more in the coming days on Duke's outstanding win.
Duke 60, Butler 59, :13.6 left in the game: Don't read this for analysis, because I have none. All I do know is: Singler had a perfect look at extending the lead to three, and he airballed the jumper. I don't think he'll be a goat in the event of the loss, because he's been fantastic all day, but he could've put it away there. So easily.
Duke 60, Butler 59, :49 left in the game: Can anyone believe that Smith missed that lay-up at the minute mark? Nolan, so poised and clutch this year—witness how he calmly sank those two free throws to extend the lead to five coming out of the last timeout—just came oh so close to putting the game away.
Strap in, everyone.
Duke 58, Butler 55, 4:42 left in the game: Huge momentum swing with Singler throwing it directly to Nored, who threw a great outlet pass to Hayward. Hayward fouled hard by Thomas—a chorus of boos unlike anything heard so far befell us when Thomas wasn't called for an intentional—but Hayward still makes two free throws to cut it to one.
Singler ran off a double-screen and hit a jumper with the Bulldogs trying in vain to reach him in time to extend the Duke lead to three. He also quieted the crowd a little bit.
Duke 53, Butler 49, 7:58 left in the game: What a great play by Scheyer to go to the basket and make the shot despite contact. He's been quiet tonight, but he just had a huge shot that really deflated the Bulldog fans, while simultaneously firing up the Blue Devils.
Now for the bad news for Duke: Miles Plumlee is really struggling out there. He had a couple of bad fouls and completely missed a pass from Singler. As soon as the pass went through his hands, Krzyzewski called for Zoubek to go back in, despite Zoubek's foul trouble. Now, it's a nerve-racking experience every time Zoubek goes to defend anybody—one misstep, and he's gone.
Duke 47, Butler 43, 11:21 left in the game: Just like that, Duke goes on a 9-2 run to pull ahead by four. The play of the series, to me, was Zoubek's move to the basket, to perfectly position himself for a quick catch and shoot on an inbounds play. Zoubek won't see the court for a while, though, as the senior just picked up his fourth foul. He was incredulous at the call, by the way, arguing it over all the way to the bench.
Opportunity for a big Butler momentum swing avoided when Hayward was called for a charge instead of a basket and one. That would have put the game within two.
Duke 40, Butler 40, 15:14 left in the game: Butler's guards are getting to the hole far too easily for any Duke fan's comfort. Both Mack and Norad blasted by the strong side defense twice in a row for easy layups. Minimal defensive resistance on the shots.
The physicality of this game is surprising. The refs are really letting them get away with a lot on the court. Witness Nolan Smith's final shot before the TV timeout—he absorbed tremendous contact, but held on to make the shot, despite the no-call. And I'm not saying there should've been a call; both sides are dealing with this.
Duke 33, Butler 32, HALFTIME: I'd give the Blue Devils a solid B for their performance during the half—they avoided falling behind to an extremely confident and determined Butler team, and they controlled the game's tempo for much of the time.
Two things that killed Duke during the half, though, were critical and completely unexpected. No. 1: its rebounding. Despite having a sizable height advantage on the Bulldogs, the Blue Devils were outrebounded 24 to 17, including 12 to three on the offensive end. Chalk it up to Butler being more tenacious, aggressive, or lucky—whatever the case, Duke needs to improve. No. 2 thing that killed the Blue Devils: their defense. The hallmark for Duke all year, its defense could've been better. Too many open shots and too many easy looks for Butler. That needs to change.
Duke 28, Butler 27, 2:25 left in the first half: Remember how I said that Duke had a very big rebounding advantage? Yeah, I'm an idiot. Butler has 16 to Duke's 15, including an astounding seven on the offensive glass. I'm not sure how the Bulldogs are doing it, other than the fact that they seem to really be attacking the long rebounds after 3-point attempts.
SIngler has an NBA-ready game and he showed a very NBA-ready move with 5:15 left in the half—a drive and pro hop, complete with the finish, that had Butler fans screaming for a travel call and Duke fans yelling in delight.
Duke 18, Butler 20, 7:54 left in the first half: Butler has the lead, but Duke fans shouldn't be in panic mode yet. The Blue Devils have four turnovers and are not playing their best basketball right now.
Duke fans might want to be a little disconcerted with this, though: Butler has a shooting percentage eight points lower than Duke... and is still in the lead.
Duke 16, Butler 14, 11:05 left in the first half: The overwhelming size of Duke over Butler will be the main story line as we continue here in Indianapolis. It's not just the big men that have the advantage down low and on the boards (don't have exact stats, but the rebounding margin is astoundingly pro-Duke). It's the guards, too. Zach Hahn, who hit a 3-pointer and over-celebrated after it, is listed at 6-foot-1, but is probably 5-foot-9. Ronald Nored is deeply undersized compared to Jon Scheyer—evidence of that is the big man move Scheyer was able to put on Nored, with the hook in the paint.
Duke will exploit this advantage at every opportunity, that much is for sure.
Other news: Singler's first two points of the game didn't come into the 13:30 mark. He's getting a ton of boards, but is barely touching the ball on offense. His free throws and a beaut of a 3-pointer aside, Singler will need to get in the flow a little better as the game goes on.
Duke 6, Butler 4, 15:47 left in the first half: Leave it to Nolan Smith to hit the first basket for Duke. He's as cool a customer as they come, and he asked for the ball on the wing and calmly hit a jumper to start the game. Later, he beat two Butler players off the dribble and hit a wide-open lay-up to put Duke up four.
Lance Thomas already has two fouls. As soon as he left the game, Mack hit a step-back 3-pointer to cut the lead to two. No correlation to Thomas' foul trouble, but an interesting thing to note.
Duke fans have to love that Matt Thomas can't finish his shots after making good moves to beat Zoubek.
Nolan Smith was noticeably limping after the last series. He looks fine now, though, so it must have been nothing.
PREGAME: A few random thoughts before we get going:
Matchup of the night tonight is Kyle Singler on Gordon Heyward. Singler played excellent D on Deshawn Butler Saturday night before Butler's injury, locking down West Virginia's guard by forcing him to take bad shots and pushing him out of position. Heyward and Singler play very similar games—if Singler wins this matchup, Duke should cruise. If Heyward gives Singler trouble
While many of you are safe in the cocoon of the Gothic Wonderland, be aware that most of the nation is pulling for Butler tonight. It's being billed as David vs. Goliath, and everyone loves an underdog.
We got to go to Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse today (check out our preview of the game filmed there), and you could probably fit four Hinkles in Lucas Oil. It's got nothing on this monstrosity we're currently sitting in.
Butler's Big Blue was the hit of the media crew today—everyone wanted to pet him. For sheer cuteness, I think it's a safe bet that he beats the Blue Devil mascot.
PREGAME: 10 minutes from tip-off, and I can already tell you it's going to be a great one tonight. Butler is very well-represented here, but Duke fans also make up a sizable chunk of the crowd. The arenas almost totally filled up already—I would guess the tornado watch sent most scurrying quickly from their cars to get inside.
Starters for tonight: For Butler, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, Gordon Hayward, Villie Veasley and Matt Howard (starting despite his recent concussion). For Duke, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler.