"I thought Gordon’s shot had a chance," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "Anytime you have a player of Gordon's caliber and he’s got the ball in his hands and lets it fly, you feel like you have a chance to win."
And, really, what more could the Bulldogs have asked for, but a chance to win a national title in the final seconds? Well, how about winning that championship?
Don't get this team pinned wrong. It had every intention of coming out on top Monday night, of providing college basketball fans with perhaps the greatest story in the history of the modern era of the sport.
"For me, it’s going to be the loss (I remember)," a devastated Hayward said. "I hate losing. … It’s great for us to be here, but that’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted to win."
Said Stevens, after his three players had been dismissed from the postgame press conference: "You could see listening to our three guys, they’re crushed. This mattered. They wanted to win. It’s really hard for them to come straight in here and answer questions."
And as Stevens admitted, it will take awhile for the Bulldogs to get over this disappointment, to be able to put a season that included a 25-game winning streak in perspective. As for the winners, they felt for the Bulldogs afterward.
"It was the toughest game we’ve played in all year," Scheyer said. "It’s hard that one of those teams had to feel that way."
But as we all know, every great game, every instant classic, must have a loser — sometimes more lovable than others. On this occasion, most of a nation mourned for a Bulldogs squad that kept proving people wrong, kept surprising opponents when the pundits thought they had finally met their match.
It's OK, though, to mourn for one team and feel elated for another. And that's the best way to view this classic. Be happy for Zoubek, the big, bruising Duke center who overcame two summers spent on crutches — "It was really hard to imagine being in this position (then)," he said Monday night — to become, as Coach K said, the key player who elevated his game down the stretch of the season and had 11 big rebounds Monday.
Be happy for Nolan Smith, who played the game of his life against Baylor in the Elite 8 on the road to winning a national title in the same city as his late father, Derek Smith, who did it for Louisville in 1980. Be happy for Scheyer and Thomas, Duke's other seniors who withstood three subpar seasons — at least by Duke standards — to return the program to the top.
And simply be happy that you witnessed a game — not to mention a tournament — that won't be forgotten for a long time.
"I think it'll become a historic game," Krzyzewski said. "It's the best one I've been involved in of the eight (national title games he's coached in).