April 5, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -The Cameron Crazies found a new use for one of their favorite taunts.

When the NCAA title game was over, they broke out the "Four! Four! Four!" chant that's usually the preferred way to harass Duke's foul-prone opponents.

This time, they were counting championships.

And they have the Blue Devils' "Big Three" to thank for it, because Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith simply wouldn't be denied the title they so desperately craved.

The Blue Devils held on to beat Butler 61-59 Monday night for their first national title since 2001, and 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.

"It's hard for me to say it, to imagine that we're the national champions," coach Mike Krzyzewski told the crowd.

Maybe, but 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 its "Big Three" 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 for a while inside.

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 hung championship banners at Cameron Indoor Stadium: Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Battier - and now Smith, Scheyer and Singler, after they 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.

And when Coach K finally clipped the final piece of championship net, he kissed it and held it aloft for the Duke fans to savor.

"I love this team and it's our last day together, and what a way to celebrate our last day together," Krzyzewski said.