Duke 61, Butler 59 -- Inside the journey to college basketball's biggest 'what-if' moment

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The first question to Dukecoach Mike Krzyzewski about the 2010 national championship game between the Blue Devils and Butler Bulldogs doesn't even end before Krzyzewski interjects.

"Missed heave," Krzyzewski joked. "I hate when they call it a shot."

He's referring, of course, to Gordon Hayward's shot at the buzzer from half court that hit the backboard, then the rim, then bounced away, resulting in a 61-59 Duke victory and a national championship.

"I never looked at Hayward's as a shot, I looked at it as a heave, and when you shoot from 50 feet, it's a heave," Krzyzewski said. "And when it does go in, whether it goes in at the end of a half or at the end of the game, it's a heck of a thing."

Hayward's shot (or heave, if you prefer) is often considered the most iconic missed attempt in NCAA tournament history, the biggest what-might-have-been in Final Four history. But the 2010 title game was more than that. As CBS's Jim Nantz said toward the end of the broadcast, "We've just watched one of the great championship games ever played."

It was the start of Brad Stevens' legacy and the first of back-to-back national title game appearances for Butler, a private school in Indianapolis with fewer than 5,000 students. It was the beginning of a run that ultimately launched the Bulldogs into the Big East Conference.

As we near the 10th anniversary of the shot -- and the game -- we talked to more than a dozen key players and coaches from that game for their perspectives and memories of the greatest what-if moment in Final Four history.

Part I: 'Why not make the Final Four?'

Heading into the 2009-10 season, not much separated the current iterations of Duke and Butler. The Blue Devils were ranked No. 9 in the preseason, Butler No. 11. Duke hadn't been past the Sweet 16 since 2004 but returned a nucleus of juniors and seniors who had suffered NCAA tournament losses in three straight seasons. Butler brought back the same starting five and nearly its entire rotation from the previous season.

Butler struggled early, starting 8-4, before running off 20 consecutive wins entering the NCAA tournament.

Ronald Nored (Butler guard, 2008-12): That was the closest team I've ever been part of as a player or a coach. Bringing everyone back was pretty unique. We were ranked [No. 11] to start the year, which everyone forgets when they call us a Cinderella. We were picked to be pretty good. We had all the pieces. We had scoring, we could defend. The thing that separated us, we were connected, we were bonded. We all hung out together all the time.

Matt Howard (Butler forward, 2007-11): In the preseason, they came to us and said, "The year before, the goal was to make the NCAA tournament," which is an incredible goal, a really good accomplishment. You have to be somewhat realistic, pursue something, a bigger goal. I remember talking about it then. "Why not make the Final Four? Let's make that our goal."

Micah Shrewsberry (Butler assistant coach, 2008-11): We went to Anaheim [for the 76 Classic] and played Minnesota. Our locker room was close to theirs, and they sounded like they won the national championship [when they beat us]. And it was like, wow, people are getting up for us. That was flipped for us. We were playing teams and sneaking up on teams, but not anymore. We had the reputation as a really good program, but the players didn't recognize it. Coaches knew, but it didn't get the players' attention as much. And then that season, we're getting everybody's attention and everybody's best shot.

Duke had its bumps during the middle part of the season. The Blue Devils went 13-1 to start the campaign, then lost three of their next seven before losing just one game the rest of the regular season and in the conference tournament.

Nolan Smith (Duke guard, 2007-11): Our team was just together. Our team had been through so much, individually, from the senior class losing to VCU in the first round, myself and Kyle [Singler] coming in, losing in the round of 32 to West Virginia, then got killed by Villanova in Boston. We had been through stuff. We were very together because of what we had been through. Going into it, we were confident in who we were, knew what we were. Everybody knew their role.

Steve Wojciechowski (Duke assistant coach, 1999-2014): We went up to Washington, D.C., and played Georgetown and we got our butts kicked. We had to do something different to shake things up. We challenged those guys a lot. But I think it was after the [UNC game], we made the switch. Brian Zoubek had [16 points and 17 rebounds], but he dominated the game. In every aspect, he did all the little things, offensive rebounds, he and Lance [Thomas] just dominated. From that point on, we took off. We lost one game from that point, with him in the starting lineup. During that time, you felt like you could do something special. It was different. There was a focus, there was a toughness, there was a connectivity that was just very unusual, and it's something that you felt.

Duke entered the NCAA tournament as a 1-seed, but the Blue Devils weren't the favorite -- even though they performed like one. Their average margin of victory was 17 points, with only one game decided by single-digits, a 78-71 win over Baylor. They played arguably their best game of the season in the national semifinal, crushing West Virginia by 21. Butler, on the other hand, learned how to survive. The Bulldogs beat UTEP in the first round by 18 points, then won their next four games by a combined 15 points. They beat 13-seed Murray State by two, 1-seed Syracuse by four, 2-seed Kansas State by seven and 5-seed Michigan State by two to become just the third 5-seed to reach the national championship game.

Terry Johnson (Butler assistant coach, 2007-17): Before we went to the Sweet 16, we took a different route to the airport. Nobody said a word when we drove by Lucas Oil [Stadium]. It was an unspoken word we were coming back to play here. There were families and players on the bus, even some little kids. But the bus went silent. We see Lucas Oil, downtown Indianapolis, silence. Everybody went into that moment. Like, this could happen.

Willie Veasley (Butler guard, 2006-10): My four years at Butler, we do things one way. The way we go to the airport, the way we do shootarounds and everything. We're predictable. So right away, you're like, this is different. All of a sudden, it hits you. "I get it now." It was -- not eerie, but I see what we're doing here now.

Nored: The real moment for me was when [sophomore forward] Garrett Butcher and I went to a country concert in October at Lucas Oil, right before the season started. It was headlined by Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. When Garrett walked into that arena that night, we were like, "Dude how sweet would it be to play here for the Final Four?" I'm not sure I had ever been in there at that point. When we finally made it, I talked to Garrett about that time when we said that was possible.

Part II: David vs. Goliath? Not to Butler

The narrative heading into the game was clear: powerhouse program Duke, the blueblood of bluebloods, going against plucky Horizon League school Butler. In Indianapolis, no less. "Hoosiers" was a common theme.

Brad Stevens (Butler coach, 2007-13) to Bleacher Report in 2016: I asked our guys at the practice three days before, I said, "Hey, there's a large contingent of people that have asked me, 'Are you interested in measuring the rims and measuring the free throw line like the movie 'Hoosiers'?'" And our guys said, "Hell no."

Matthew Graves (Butler assistant coach, 2000-13): I don't think they viewed themselves as David. We were a preseason top-10 team.

Johnson: We thought that we were going to win the game. We didn't care who was over there. They hadn't lost since December. They didn't know how to lose. They didn't know how to respond after a loss. We never went into it thinking we were going to lose. But we weren't overconfident. It was about being detailed, being together, being tough. That was the only way we were going to have a chance.

Jon Scheyer (Duke guard, 2006-10): Two things played in our mind. One, understanding how good they are. Butler at that time, their reputation, knowing they had multiple pros on their team. Guys that had been together a long time. They had won 24 games or something in a row before playing us. Second, we embraced being in that villain role. Everybody is rooting against us. When you're at Duke, that's how it is 99% of the time.

Chris Collins (Duke assistant coach, 2000-13): The maturity of our group was off the charts. There was going to be no side story. It's not like you have a week to think about it. We were the second game on that Saturday night, so it's less than 48 hours until that national championship.

Brian Zoubek (Duke center, 2006-10): What we went through at Duke, I don't know if we ever felt like Goliath. I don't think we were taking anything for granted. We finally realized this was our shot after four years of eating s---, basically. We wanted to shut everybody up and didn't care who it was. This is our time and we can make all four years worth it, right here.

With the game being in Indianapolis, Butler's players went to class on the Monday morning of the title game. Nantz said on the broadcast that eight Butler players were shuttled from their downtown hotel to campus for their 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. classes.

Shrewsberry: We didn't play until 9 p.m., so they had all day. That adds to the mystique of the story.

Gordon Hayward (Butler forward, 2008-10): I remember going to the first class and the professor asking me, "What are you doing here?" I said, "What do you mean? I'm coming to class." "No, get out of my class. Go back and get ready for the game."

Howard: It was symbolic of what Butler tries to stand for. Brad wanted to keep things as normal as possible.

Part III: 'Two really good, tough teams trading punches'

One of the more tightly contested title games of all time, the biggest lead was Duke's 26-20 margin with five minutes left in the first half. Butler immediately responded with a 7-0 run following a timeout to take the lead. It was that sort of game.

Both teams had foul issues, with Thomas picking up two fouls in the first three minutes and Howard and Nored both picking up two first-half fouls. Butler missed its first seven 2-pointers, but Shelvin Mack carried the Bulldogs early and Avery Jukes came off the bench for 10 first-half points, including two 3-pointers to keep Butler within striking distance.

Shrewsberry: Nobody could ever really take command of it. It was just back and forth and back and forth. Avery Jukes' first half really kind of kept us in the game. Kept us afloat. Steadied us. Big shot after big shot. You get into those games and you feel like this for the last five minutes, the last 10 minutes. It was 40 minutes of that.

Graves: It was a possession-by-possession game. That's how we wanted to play, that's what we emphasized in all of our games, to maximize each possession offensively and defensively, execute our system. It wasn't about, Let's win this next four-minute war. It was a singular possession on offense and defense. Repeat, repeat, repeat. That's how the game played out.

The second half was more of the same, with Howard forced to the bench for long stretches due to foul trouble. Butler was forced to go small at times, with Hayward playing center. The momentum in the arena began to change once Nored hit a 3-pointer with 13:35 remaining to give Butler a one-point lead -- but Kyle Singler responded with a 3 on the next possession. Duke picked up six points on baseline out-of-bounds plays in the second half alone, while Butler struggled to score from the field in the latter part of the second half.

Collins: There was never any separation, never any extended runs. You never felt like the momentum was firmly in either team's control. I remember just being amazed at how locked in both teams were. You had two old-school teams, sound at both ends, really good defensive units. Points were really hard to come by. In retrospect, if you look at the second half, we scored three times on baseline out-of-bounds. That was a real separator. Both teams were having a hard time, once you got to that second half. It was really hard to score. It was really hard to get a good shot. And those plays got us six points.

Wojciechowski: I remember two really good, tough teams trading punches. You could never deliver a knockout blow, you could never get separation. You always felt like it was going to come down to the last couple possessions.

Duke had a five-point lead and the ball in the final three minutes, but Singler was called for traveling with 2:04 left when the Blue Devils could have extended the lead.

Mike Krzyzewski (Duke coach, 1980-present): We actually scored on some out-of-bounds situations, some stop-actions, but both teams played outstanding defense. And in the last few minutes of the game, we had a few-possession lead, and it seemed like we missed some shots. We got called for a travel where Singler hit Scheyer in the corner, Scheyer hit a 3 but it didn't count. There were just some things that happened in a basketball game during those couple minutes before the last sequences that would have given us separation. And so it seemed like we were in more control than we actually were.

Part IV: 'If that shot goes in, we're going to win this thing'

With Duke up 60-59, Singler comes off a curl and misses a long 2-pointer, with the ball bouncing off Zoubek's foot and going out of bounds. Butler comes down and Zoubek deflects a Mack pass out of bounds with 13.6 seconds left. Butler will inbound the ball from the corner down by one.

Veasley: Our intention was to get Gordon the basketball, let him make a play, whether it's a shot or getting to the rim or getting fouled. Get the ball in Gordon Hayward's hands, it's what we've done all season.

Nored: The way he played, this dude is going to the NBA next year. We're not going to play with him ever again. The ball in his hands, with that shot. You thought that was going to go in. If that shot goes in, we're going to win this thing.

Hayward: It was just, Pop out, get it and make a play. They did a good job of forcing me right. I like going left. That shot, I remember, I've hit so many times. It felt really good when it left my hands. It was just barely long, so it hit the back rim. That was the shot I remember way more than the half-court shot. I was way more disappointed in that one.

Krzyzewski: We felt it would go to [Hayward]. And we had Zoubek on the ball on the out-of-bounds pass. We never put him on there. So they use their last timeout right on that play. And we kept him there because they had a hard time. We wanted [Hayward] to go to his right. And he did go to his right. And then Zoubek. That was a great defensive play, but he came from guarding out of bounds to come over to help and Gordon had to adjust his shot to kind of fall back a little bit. And it was short. And thank goodness Zoubs did that. And then he got the rebound.

Zoubek: I had never really guarded the inbounds passer -- that surprised them a little bit. It threw them off a little bit. On the next play, I was lucky they got the clock down that far and Hayward took that long, because we had some broken defensive plays the last couple of possessions, miscommunications on defense. It felt like we were breaking down a little bit. We finally got it together. We knew Gordon was going to shoot it. He had confidence all night. Got a hand on him, affected his shot, he pulled back and overshot it.

Howard: We had tried to get it in, and we had to call a timeout. It threw us off a little bit. Wanted to isolate Gordon, get the ball in our best player's hand, get him to try to create something. To their credit, they knew Gordon pretty well. Right-handed guy, really liked to go left. I think he tried to set that up, but they forced him to get to his right. Still, he had a great look. We'll take that all day. The one thing I remember personally, making that move, it was instinctual for me -- 70% of shots go long. Off the rim, back toward you. I don't know what the number is, but coaches say that. I set myself up on the wrong side.

Smith: We knew the scouting report. Kyle Singler cut him off, made him go right for a much more difficult shot. Zoubek doing a great job of being 7-2, just made the arc of that shot go a little bit higher. Made him even more uncomfortable. He had to lean back a little bit more on the fade. Probably only two guys in the world can make that shot, Jordan and Kobe.

Smith: When we got that stop, we felt it was over. But obviously we shouldn't have felt that way. They ended up getting a very good shot. But in the moment, we were like, We got this now.

Part V: 'We hear, 'Zoubs! Miss it!'

Zoubek grabbed the rebound off the Hayward miss and was fouled with 3.6 seconds left. He made the first to make the score 61-59, but Krzyzewski yelled from the sideline to miss the second on purpose.

Smith: It definitely caught us off guard. Zoubs stepped up with so much confidence. He made the first one. So much confidence, this is it, he's locked in. This is our moment. He'll make the second, no matter what, we go to overtime. Let's go ahead and take this 3-point lead. Then we hear, "ZOUBS! MISS IT!" We all look over towards Coach.

Scheyer: Coach yelled over to miss it. I relayed that to Zoubs -- he had trouble hearing. He got the message. And then I saw the staff talking on the sidelines. I wasn't sure if they were changing it or not. I remember yelling to Zoubs and I wasn't sure he could hear me.

Collins: That was Coach K's decision. We knew how many set plays Butler had. If they got it on the run off a miss, it would force a really tough shot. It was his respect for Brad and their ability to have a lot of set plays off of a made free throw.

Krzyzewski: The situation was more of me having a feeling for the ebb and flow of the game, and also the foul situation and the timeout situation. They had no [timeouts] and we had two guys that played the last 10 minutes and the last five minutes with four fouls. And so if we went into overtime, my bench was young, we didn't produce that game. So my feeling is they're going to have something, they can advance the ball without time, they'll get a good shot, and if they tie it, then there's a better chance of them winning than us winning. If they have a timeout, I'm not doing that. My feeling is that the best they could do was try to throw it from past half court, which they did.

Graves: I was surprised he missed it. That was their plan. Most coaches will make that. Obviously we had a plan of attack on a make. On a miss, it becomes a mad scramble. Gordon ended up getting a good look at it. But how many times do you make a half-court shot?

Shrewsberry: We had some last-second plays to go to, but nothing on a miss. You don't think in that moment. If he makes both, it's a 3-point game. Them missing intentionally was a little different. We didn't have a set plan if he missed it.

Zoubek: I was going to try to make the second one, but Coach K had a different strategy. With my free throw percentage [55%], I never expected to be on the line in the national championship. We hadn't really practiced it It was fortunate that I was in the zone and wasn't really thinking about it. I was able to get it off pretty nicely. If I had thought about it, I would've messed it up.

Shrewsberry: That place was as loud for us as I've ever been in. You get in arenas, it's sometimes 14,000 people. But this was 70,000 cheering for Butler. The crowd had decidedly changed. If there were neutral fans there, they all jumped on our bandwagon. They were cheering for us.

Zoubek: A lot of guys' sphincters get pretty tight at that point. It can snowball. We were feeling the momentum. Easy baskets we shouldn't have let up. We were holding on at that point. We would have had a hard time in overtime.

Krzyzewski: I just thought they would have the advantage and they had the crowd. There was a different mood. It's very difficult to explain, but when you are in competition, there is a mood to a game. And the mood had definitely shifted to Butler and it was kind of a home game for them anyway, because we're in Indianapolis. And so my feeling was to end it right there.

Part VI: 'When the ball is in the air, how could you not think of destiny?'

Zoubek missed the second free throw, the ball fell to Hayward, who had to take a dribble to get around Zoubek at the foul line. Singler chased Hayward but got laid out by a Howard screen. Hayward takes off with his left foot touching the half-court line, launching a potential title-winning shot from 45 feet.

Hayward: I loved going to the gym, and at the end of shooting workouts, I would just shoot from half court. I never took them from that angle, though, I always took them straight on. Maybe I should've taken more from that angle.

Johnson: We were in Salt Lake City for the regional, we practiced at Utah, we had half-court contest after shootaround. The coaches were in the middle, the players on the side. I know Gordon did hit one. The coaches won, by the way. It was first to five. But it was close. Gordon made a shot from that angle, that exact angle.

Graves: We would always do that. I can confirm we did that. I'll tell you this, we won it more times than not.

Veasley: Twenty-five games in a row, sitting on the free throw line, it can't end this way. We've won too many games, we've always found a way. It's a little adversity, a little different situation, a little more on the line, but it's gotta go our way, somehow, someway. It's gotta go in, this is gonna go in.

Krzyzewski: Even on that miss, they had something planned. Imagine what they would have had planned with just under four seconds and an out-of-bounds play?

Graves: On a miss, it's just so hard to predict who gets the ball and where they're going to get it. Off that miss, to our guys' credit, they got as good a shot as they're gonna get in that situation. It shows just how intelligent of a group we had. I do remember Matt Howard setting one of the best screens ever. Depending on which team you're rooting for, it might have been a tad illegal.

Collins: With that little of time, Zoubek did a really good job missing, Hayward got the rebound, Zoubek made him veer off. Nobody talks about the moving screen. I thought Kyle Singler did a great job staying in front of Gordon, making him use time.

In 2008, Hayward was in a similar situation, playing for Brownsburg in the Indiana state championship game. He picked up a pass thrown nearly the length of the court and laid the ball in to win the title. This would end differently. Hayward's shot hits the backboard, then the side rim, then bounces off the opposite way. Duke wins the national championship 61-59.

Stevens to Bleacher Report: Our best player had the ball and everybody can live with that result.

Hayward: A lot of it was just instinctual. Getting the rebound, getting a big-time screen from Matt Howard, which allowed me to get a somewhat decent look off. I tried to get a shot up at the rim. From my angle, I was not trying to bank it in, so I thought it was way off. It ended up being closer than I thought.

Johnson: The shot looked like it was on. Seventy-thousand people in total silence. I was like, oh my goodness, that thing has a chance. Off the backboard, off the rim, off. I thought it had a chance.

Krzyzewski: I never felt it was going in.

Nored: Watching the play from my angle, that thing was going in. There was never a time I thought we were going to lose the game. I was feeling that it was going in.

Graves: I thought it was going in. As that shot is in the air, I'm thinking they're going to make a movie out of this.

Shrewsberry: Once he shot it, I kind of stood up onto the court and just kind of watched it. Man, this has a chance. It was on line, this one is gonna be close. And then you watch it hit and it was that close to going in.

Smith: I run past Gordon with my hands up, not even thinking he had a chance. It's hard to make even with nobody in the gym. All of a sudden I look back and it's off the backboard and the front rim. That shot was close.

Scheyer: In the beginning, this is on line. As I started tracking it, I thought it was off to the right.

Collins: From our vantage point, the ball felt it was in the air for an hour. Every rotation was going slower, but from our vantage point, it was tracking right at the basket. For a split second -- and I never thought about fate or "Hoosiers" -- but when the ball is in the air, how could you not think of destiny?

Zoubek: It looked pretty good. I was running along the whole time. I was at the foul line by the time it hit. I was just as surprised as everybody else it didn't go in.

Wojciechowski: I thought it had a great shot of going in, based on the angle I had. That's on line, but you don't know if it's going to be short, in or too long. Fortunately for us, it was probably an inch off.

Howard: It would have been beneficial to throw it over the backboard. Miss it by a mile. This hits you a little harder.

Epilogue: 'I would forever be the guy that hit the shot'

Smith: If he made it, it would've been the biggest shot in NCAA tournament history.

Howard: If Gordon makes that, that's the most iconic moment ever. It's the most iconic miss, at least, for now.

Graves: They probably would already have a movie out or a 30 for 30. You get to hang a different banner. The memory at the end is probably a little bit nicer.

Nored: There would be a movie. If there's a movie, the world becomes interested. It's a good sports story. It wouldn't even be a basketball thing anymore. Anyone that has a heart would watch that and root for the Butler Bulldogs.

Collins: I'm just glad every time they show the replay, the shot doesn't go in.

"Once again, Duke and Coach K are the gold standard of college basketball." Those were Nantz's words at the end of the broadcast, as Krzyzewski won his fourth national championship and his first since 2001. But what if Hayward's shot goes in?

Smith: That championship was one that we needed. Not necessarily Coach needed, but our program. We needed it. We were stuck on three. It was long overdue for us to get a championship. If we didn't get that one, who's to say we get 2015? Who's to say you get the recruits that follow? You win a championship, you get recruits. It gets the snowball of Kyrie [Irving] coming in. That championship for us was huge.

Scheyer: I think it was an important step for Duke to get to the Final Four and win a national championship. It had been a few years. And we did it a different way. They could see us grow together, and it put us in a position the following year. Nolan, Kyle back, Kyrie coming in. It was huge. I think about myself even. I work at Duke now, clearly, every day I'm in Cameron. I can't imagine being in there and not seeing the 2010 banner. I wouldn't look back on my career the same exact way. That's just the reality.

Collins: There's no question in the middle of that early 2000s decade, we had to reinvent ourselves. We had the JJ Redick, Shelden Williams group that didn't win. We came up short in 2004 with Luol Deng and those guys. We had a couple opportunities. But there was a four-year stretch. That's what's beautiful about that group. We barely get into the tournament, lose to VCU, then lose to West Virginia. It was a time period in Duke basketball where we were trying to reemerge as a dominant program. That stretch right after JJ had graduated, a three-year period where we were trying to re-establish ourselves. Recruiting, the five-star type of guys and the championships and those kinds of things -- for a lot of reasons, that championship meant a lot to the program, especially with the guys who did it. All four-year guys. That led to a reemergence of Duke as a dominant program in college basketball.

Zoubek: It really set the program up for the next 10 years. It really changed. When the newspapers said Duke is king of the dance again, Duke is back, it set up success for the next 10 years. It really enabled that success to keep going.

Wojciechowski: It was a very important title. There were a couple years prior to winning that championship where there were some questions about: Is Duke a national championship-caliber team? And that group willed it to happen. When you create something like that, it creates momentum. They've carried that momentum forward.

For Butler, the final shot meant less in a big-picture sense. Making the title game was an unbelievable accomplishment in itself, putting the Bulldogs into the national conversation. They returned to the title game the next season, losing to UConn. The run vaulted Gordon Hayward into the NBA draft lottery and eventually pushed Brad Stevens to become the coach of the Boston Celtics. It also helped Butler move into the upper echelon of college basketball, landing the program a spot in the Big East following realignment. Does anything change if the shot goes in?

Veasley: It's done wonders for our basketball program and the school, period. But I'm not sure it changes a whole lot. It's one of the most talked-about shots. Gordon is an unbelievable basketball player. He's probably looked at as even more of a legend.

Shrewsberry: If we would've won it, the guys would have went to class on Tuesday. It wouldn't have changed who our players were, or who Brad was as a leader. But we would've felt a lot better. [Duke] won it, but America gravitated toward our team, our group.

Hayward: I would forever be the guy that hit the shot instead of being forever the guy that missed the shot.

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