A 4th title for Coach K, thanks to Duke’s ‘Big 3’

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mike Krzyzewski clipped the final piece of the net and gave it a kiss. Then he hoisted it skyward for all those Duke fans to savor.After claiming the fourth of his national championships, Coach K showed he still knows how to celebrate a title.With Duke’s 61-59 victory over Butler on Monday night, Krzyzewski moved past Bob Knight and into a tie with Adolph Rupp for second place on the all-time list. But just as he has throughout the postseason, he kept the emphasis on a different number: No. 1 – as in, the first championship for this current bunch of Blue Devils.”You’re asked more (about) this could be Duke’s fourth national championship, and all that,” Krzyzewski said. “We just shied away from talking about that at all or try to think about it, and try to immerse ourselves in what these guys were doing. It’s much better. Like for me to think about being with them now is much better than thinking about the fourth national championship.”And Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith simply wouldn’t be denied their first title and the first one for the school since 2001. Once again, the three stars did most of the heavy lifting – though they needed some timely help from the biggest player on the roster.”People have said we don’t have the first-team All-Americans, this and that, but we have guys who do all the little things,” Smith said. “We work so well together, and this team has done whatever it takes to get wins. We did that today.”Singler scored 19 points, Scheyer added 15 and Smith 13. All three made the all-tournament team, and Singler was selected the most outstanding player at the Final Four.But title No. 4 wasn’t secure until 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek got a hand in Gordon Hayward’s face on a missed shot with 7 seconds left, hit a free throw with 3.6 seconds to go and – after missing the second one on purpose – held his breath as Hayward’s half-court heave at the buzzer clipped off the glass and the rim.Once the Blue Devils exhaled, they were on top again.”I told the team right after the game when we were in the locker room I said you were good. I said you were really good. Then I said you were really good and had great character,” Krzyzewski said at the trophy presentation early Tuesday morning at the team’s hotel. “I was running out of things to say because I always wanted a carrot out in front of them. What you have before you is a great basketball team.”And there’s no doubting that the “Big Three” made it all possible.They had to.The Blue Devils (35-5) relied on them so heavily all season that there were moments during the championship game when it seemed they might crumble under the weight of their teammates.The Singler-Scheyer-Smith trio, the nation’s most productive threesome, entered averaging 53.4 points per game and had scored 69 percent of the Blue Devils’ points this season.So it was no surprise that Duke went to them down the stretch.With less than 5 minutes left and the Blue Devils leading by one, the ball was inbounded to Scheyer. He swung it to Smith, who found Singler cutting to the wing and passed to the junior sharpshooter. His jumper swished through to make it 58-55 with 4:46 left.That wound up being the final field goal of the season for the Blue Devils, whose only three points the rest of the way came on free throws.”It really wasn’t about me shooting the ball,” Singler said. “It’s about the team, and we needed everyone in these last two games to get where we are right now.”Some more than others. Duke’s bench went scoreless against Butler, and managed only three shots, while the guys who do the dirty work – Zoubek and forward Lance Thomas – struggled inside for a while.The Bulldogs had outrebounded the Blue Devils by seven at halftime and threatened to become the first team in the tournament to hold a rebounding edge against the biggest team in Coach K’s three decades in Durham.The Blue Devils eventually eked out a 37-35 edge on the boards – perhaps none bigger than the one Zoubek grabbed after Hayward’s forced fall-away jumper in the final seconds.”I knew that me getting a rebound would be a huge play,” Zoubek said. “We really stepped it up in the second half.”That, and Hayward’s last-gasp miss, helped put these Blue Devils in the elite company of players who have hung championship banners at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Krzyzewski won consecutive titles in 1991 and ’92, then waited nine years before his next one in 2001.Nine years later, and another banner is going into Cameron’s rafters – and some new names will join those of Laettner, Hurley, Hill and Battier. Smith, Scheyer and Singler helped Duke avoid the supporting role in Butler’s real-life version of “Hoosiers.””I think we won because of these guys,” Krzyzewski said. “And as good as the Butler story is and was, their story is pretty good, too.”When it was finally over, those clever Cameron Crazies who made the trip to Hoosier Country busted out their chant, letting everyone know how many titles they have. They’re only one behind top rival North Carolina, which claimed its fifth tournament crown last year. Then the Crazies chanted “one more year” toward Singler, who hasn’t said yet whether he will return for his senior season.But clearly, that can wait. Once again, there’s a championship to celebrate at Cameron.”I love this team and it’s our last day together, and what a way to celebrate our last day together,” Krzyzewski said.

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