When the "Cinderella Sequel" was over and Duke once again had dashed the grand hopes of gutty little Butler just as it did in April's NCAA championship game, former Duke center Brian Zoubek told Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski how much he was reminded of that game after a 33-all first half.
Referring to a tenacious Butler defense that limited super Duke freshman Kyrie Irving to four points in the first half and got all-American Kyle Singler in foul trouble, Krzyzewski replied, "That's the way they play."
Only with Gordon Heyward having graduated to the NBA, Butler didn't have the horses to hang with No. 1 Duke until the final buzzer Saturday at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J., they way it did last April. Shortly after the Blue Devils gained a 45-44 lead on three foul shots by Nolan Smith, Krzyzewski got into his players during a timeout with 12:35 left to play, urging them to take the game by the throat.
They responded by extending it to a 12-0 run to take a 10-point lead, and when Butler (4-3) rallied within three at 60-57, Irving buried two straight three-pointers to restore a cushion Duke (8-0) was able to maintain to the end of it 82-70 victory. Veteran Smith led the way with 24 points, Irving finished with 21 and Singler totaled 13.
" 'Urging' is a good word," Krzyzewski said. "It takes the place of some other words. It was a game that, if one of the two teams could win two or three consecutive possessions, it would be huge. That's what we were getting on them to do. It's like a fighter in a big fight. You're there in the corner saying, 'C'mon, champ. We need to win this round.' "
Duke guard Andre Dawkins, a great shooter who filled the sixth-man role with 10 points and eight rebounds, provided a spark. He made a steal and went in for a dunk that turned into a three-point play in the middle of the 12-0 run.
By then, Butler was without its best player, guard Shelvin Mack (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists in 21 minutes), who left the game with leg cramps early in the second half. But the Bulldogs came back with a 13-6 run that ended with seven straight points by Shawn Vanzant (14 points, 5 rebounds) to make it 60-57.
That was when Irving, who comes from nearby West Orange, N.J., hit two big threes in his 17-point second half. "You pick your poison with Kyrie Irving," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "If you overextend on ball screens with all those shooters on the floor, they throw it up to the rim to [Mason] Plumlee or they find a shooter. They're very disciplined."
That Butler made it an even game for 28 minutes was no consolation to Stevens. "I think a loss is a loss," he said. "I looked at this game and thought we could win. When we played the way we did in the first half, it was validated that we could win. Then, they separated at the end."
They're Duke, and it was midnight again for Butler.