Monday, April 19, 2010

Duke fans hold their breath in tight title game
Tuesday April 6, 2010
Duke fans hold their breath in tight title game

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -A massive gasp rose from the crowd in Cameron Indoor Stadium as Butler's last shot hit backboard, then rim. When it bounced off, Duke's "Cameron Crazies'' stormed the court to celebrate the Blue Devils' latest national championship - just as if they were actually at the game.

"Disbelief and absolute elation,'' said freshman Bailey Parks, her hands still trembling minutes after Duke's 61-59 win against Butler in Monday night's NCAA title game. "It's completely indescribable.''

Duke's "Cameron Crazies'' got the chance to cheer on their Blue Devils to another title from afar, gathering in the program's venerable home arena to watch the game. And the 4,500 or so fans who filed into Cameron all got quite a scare, with Butler missing two shots for the win in the final seconds before Duke's victory was secure in Indianapolis.

Many of the students - who had cheered all night as though it was a normal game - ran onto the court when Gordon Hayward missed the first shot for the lead with 3.6 seconds left. Then, after Duke's Brian Zoubek made 1 of 2 free throws, Duke's fans stopped their celebration and watched nervously as Hayward's final halfcourt heave came oh-so-close but missed the mark.

Then came the ear-rattling roar.

Some fans jumped into each other's arms for celebratory hugs. Some sprinted around the edge of the court and screamed toward the rafters that will soon hold a fourth championship banner. Others immediately poured out of Cameron and headed up campus to celebrate around a bonfire into Tuesday's early hours.

Duke won consecutive championships under Mike Krzyzewski in 1991 and 1992, then waited nine years before winning the Hall of Famer's third title in 2001. But they hadn't won since and had been to the Final Four just once, a drought by the program's lofty standards that had some questioning whether Duke had slipped.

But after another nine-year wait, the Blue Devils are celebrating again.

"To all the alumni that never got to experience this, this one's for them,'' said David Piccirilli, a junior political science and history major from Tampa, Fla., who came running out of Cameron screaming and wearing a Duke jersey after the game. "This one's for everybody in the Duke community everywhere. People said we couldn't do it and it feels so good. It just feels so good.''

Making it even sweeter: they did it as rival North Carolina - which won last year's championship - played in the NIT.

It didn't even matter that most of the country was pulling for Butler, the feel-good story of the tournament by getting all the way to the final game in what many compared to a rewrite of the movie "Hoosiers.''

"It's really cool to be in here tonight because you can tell those guys are having the greatest experience of their lives and they're bringing the entire school and community into the experience,'' said junior Sarah Bullard, a member of the school's women's lacrosse team who came to Cameron wearing paint and J.J. Redick's No. 4 Duke jersey. "I think that makes it really fun and it's such a big deal for everyone around here.

"You either love Duke or hate Duke, and if you love them, you really love them.''

In many ways, the night had all the hallmarks of the typical Cameron bedlam.

By the time Cameron opened its doors before the game, there was a line of several hundred Duke students waiting on the sidewalk that lines "Krzyzewskiville,'' the grassy plot where they camp out to get into regular-season games. Some were still wearing sunglasses even though the sun had long since set, others were trying to down the cases of beer they had tucked under their arms before getting to the security checkpoint just outside Cameron.

The only thing that was missing was Krzyzewski and his players, though they'll return home Tuesday afternoon for a campus celebration.

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