INDIANAPOLIS — They were all long shots. The team. The game. The tournament.
And, ultimately, the final shot of the 2009-10 basketball season.
Butler's Gordon Hayward threw up a desperation shot from just inside midcourt as the buzzer sounded Monday night, then watched in agony as the ball bounced off the backboard, off the front of the rim and back to the floor.
And that is how Duke returned to the top of the college basketball world.
The Blue Devils avoided one of history's greatest upset attempts when they held off Butler 61-59 in the national championship game. It was Duke's fourth title, which trails only UCLA (11), Kentucky (7), Indiana (5) and North Carolina (5) in NCAA history.
"I've been fortunate enough to be in eight national championship games, and this was a classic," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "This was the toughest and the best one."
The championship was also the fourth for Krzyzewski, now tied with Adolph Rupp for second place behind UCLA legend John Wooden.
If fifth-seeded Butler (33-5) was the sentimental favorite for fans in love with underdogs, then first-seeded Duke (35-5) was the corporate giant fighting to regain its stature after nearly a decade of frustration. After dominating college basketball for much of the 1990s, the Blue Devils had not win a title since 2001.
"It means the world to us," senior Lance Thomas said. "To come in and get knocked out of this tournament in our first game (as freshmen) and to have to live with that for the rest of our lives. Freshman, sophomore and junior years not having the success we wanted.
"To leave as champions, to have our last game be a national championship, it's tough to put into words."
For most of the night, it was their game, and the Blue Devils refused to let go. Duke was either tied or held the lead for about 35 of the first 39 minutes and was not going to let it get away in the season's final seconds.
Butler had fought back from a 60-55 deficit to get within 60-59 and had an inbounds pass with 13.6 seconds remaining to go for the win.
Hayward got the ball near the top of the key and dribbled around looking for an opening. He eventually drove to the right of the hoop and tried a short fadeaway jumper, but Duke 7-1 center Brian Zoubek got a hand in his face as he shot.
The ball went off the left side of the rim and bounced right back into Zoubek's hands.
"To get that last stop, it was why we've won this whole year. It's defense," Zoubek said. "We won the national championship with defense."
Zoubek was fouled and hit his first free-throw attempt before purposefully missing the second and making the Bulldogs drive the length of the court with 3.6 seconds remaining.
Hayward dribbled just past midcourt before launching his final shot.
"There was no doubt that I thought that ball was going to drop or that Gordon was going to get fouled," Butler guard Ronald Nored said. "I was just sitting there waiting for it to go in."
For Butler, the wait will never end.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]