It's funny, but trailing by a point with 13.6 seconds left, Butler's Shelvin Mack said he and his teammates were in the huddle thinking, "Just believe in each other, believe that the shot is going to go in."
After the Bulldogs' Gordon Hayward missed twice, the first with seven seconds left and the second from just inside the halfcourt line after Duke had extended its lead to 61-59, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski found it almost impossible to believe his team really had won the national championship. Considering it was his fourth and he's somewhat used to the experience, Krzyzewski's air of disbelief was unusual to say the least.
"I still can't believe we won," Krzyzewski said long after receiving the trophy. "The game was so good that anybody could have won. I don't think we were lucky to win because we earned it. We won because of these [players]. As good as the Butler story is and was and will be, their story's pretty good, too."
Everyone who witnessed what surely will go down as one of the greatest games in NCAA championship history will have to decide whether they recall this game as the one Duke won by the skin of its teeth or the one Butler lost by the bounce of Hayward's two shots off the rim. It was a remarkable test of will and effort and incredible execution between a Duke team that long has been a giant in college basketball and a Butler team that grew out of the ranks of mid-majors to stand on equal footing with all the big boys this season.
Two teams that exemplified the best of college athletics fought each other tooth and nail on every single possession to the bitter end. Butler coach Brad Stevens, 33, matched wits with the great Krzyzewski, 63, as if it were a chess prodigy against a grand master. It was just phenomenal stuff.
Asked how it felt to play in a game like that, Butler's Mack stepped outside of the reality of the final score to see the big picture, a wonderfully mature thing to do. "It's a great feeling,"I'm just blessed to be here. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to compete on a stage like this. We didn't get the win, but it's still a great honor to be here and be able to compete on a stage like this."
Stevens said he couldn't really put into words what it meant for a 4,200-student school like Butler to have this moment on the national stage and represent itself so proudly. Despite the pain of such a heart-rending loss, Stevens said of his players: "Because of what they've experienced, they'll have each other for a long, long time."
Duke got the better end of the deal, but the Devils know that a worthy opponent is what made it so great to win this game. "I've been fortunate enough to be in eight national championship games, and this was a classic," Krzyzewski said. "This was the toughest and best one."