No. 1 Duke, which had trailed for only three minutes total in its first seven games and never by more than two points, found it almost as tough to shake Butler as it did in last year's NCAA title game. The Bulldogs led by as much as five points and were up early in the second half and showing their usual tenacity.
Despite losing their best player, guard Shelvin Mack (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) to leg cramps early in the second half, the Bulldogs (4-3) managed a 44-42 lead with 15:02 left in the game. But the Blue Devils (8-0) chose that moment to put together a 12-0 run to take control of the game. During a timeout with 12:45 left and Duke holding a one-point lead at 45-44, coach Mike Krzyzewski urged his players to grab the game by the throat, and they responded.
Kyle Singler (13 points) scored on two straight layups, and then Andre Dawkins got a steal and went the distance for a dunk, was fouled and converted the three-point play. That was followed by a dunk by Mason Plumlee on a fast break for a 54-44 advantage with 10:48 left.
"Urged is a good word," Krzyzewski said of his commands during the timeout. "Urged is better than some other words. It was a game where, if one of the two teams could win two or three possessions in a row, they could take charge. It was like a fighter where you're saying, 'C'mon, win this round.' Andre gave us a huge lift."
Butler later cut the deficit to three at 60-57 after Shawn Vanzant (14 points, 5 rebounds) scored seven straight points for the Bulldogs at the end of a 13-6 run. But Duke's super freshman Kyrie Irving (pictured), playing near his West Orange, N.J. home, buried two straight three-pointers to restore a 66-57 Blue Devils lead, and that was all she wrote for Butler.
Irving finished with 21 points, and Nolan Smith led Duke with 24. Matt Howard added 13 for Butler, and Andrew Smith added 10.
Comparing this game to last year's title game, Butler coach Brad Stevens said of Duke: "One thing I think is different than last year is their collective team speed. They're hard to guard…You pick your poison with Kyrie Irving. If you overextend to guard him, they throw it to the rim."