Devils Create Hellish Night in Almost Heaven

INDIANAPOLIS -- Things already looked grim, as WVU faced a 15-point deficit near the mid-point of the second half of Saturday night's second national semifinal. But when Da'Sean Butler went down in a heap and had to be carried off the floor, his Mountaineer career ended by an apparent knee sprain, the finality of West Virginia's Final Four defeat truly began to sink in.

The Blue Devils had already been thoroughly outplaying the champions of the Big East Conference and the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. But the absolute agony written on Butler's face as he was carried off the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium by Deniz Kilicli and a team trainer was perhaps the final blow.

Without its emotional leader, WVU wilted. For once, the team that had found a way to claw back from large deficits all season long had no rally left in it.

"It was very frustrating for us, you know, seeing the best player go down, especially when you're trying to make a run," said Mountaineer forward Devin Ebanks.

"Usually, you know, whenever we're down, we're pretty confident we can come back."

Duke (34-5) moved on to Monday night's national championship game with a 78-57 win. It will face Butler, which took out Michigan State in the night's first semifinal 52-50.

It was a difficult ending to what had been a magical season for the Mountaineers, who cut down nets after winning both the Big East Tournament and their Elite Eight game over mighty Kentucky.

They famously advanced to their first Final Four since 1959, won their first-ever championship in what many consider the toughest league in all of college basketball, and watched Butler become a national sensation with his repeated late-game heroics.

But they finally met their match in the Blue Devils, champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and their "Big Three" of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.

That trio scored 63 points, or 80.7 percent of their team's output. Time and time again, those players hit big shots to put to rest any notions of a WVU rally. They also found open teammates and took care of the basketball.

"They got us out of character," said Ebanks. "We usually are not like that on defense. But we allowed a lot of penetration to the middle. They were able to convert and hit open jump shots."

"They had a great day and they were probably the better team today."

Scheyer had a game-high 23 points and added six assists and two steals. Smith had 19 points and six assists. Neither player committed a turnover. Duke had 20 assists on 29 made baskets, while committing only six turnovers against a West Virginia defense that had been devastatingly effective of late.

The Blue Devils became the first team to score 70 or more points against the Mountaineers since Feb. 22.

Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the team's last loss -- a 73-62 setback at Connecticut. Duke's 78 points were the most scored by any WVU opponent in regulation since an 82-75 loss to Villanova on Feb. 8.

It all added up to West Virginia's most lopsided loss of the season. And it left head coach Bob Huggins with a simple explanation.

"They played really well," said the Mountaineers' third-year head coach, who fell to 0-2 in Final Four games, of his team's opposition.

"I mean, they played really, really well. And I've watched a lot of tape. I hadn't seen them play that well. And we didn't play very well. And, you know, that happens."

West Virginia (31-7) came unraveled after rallying within as few as five points early in the second half on a pair of Butler free throws.

But Duke, as it did all night long, had an answer.

Smith hit a 3-pointer to make it an eight-point lead moments later. After another successful pair of foul shots from the Mountaineers' senior leader to draw within 46-40, Scheyer canned another trifecta to make it a nine-point game.

From there, the lead steadily ballooned. It stood at 63-48 after yet another 3-pointer from Scheyer, one of the 13 shots from beyond the arc that Blue Devils players successfully converted on their 25 attempts.

Moments later, Butler was attempting to make a driving move to the basket when Duke's Brian Zoubek stepped in to challenge his shot. Butler said his left foot slipped slightly on a wet spot on the floor when he planted it to go up for a shot, and his knee buckled under him.

West Virginia's third all-time leading scorer immediately fell to the floor and began writhing in agony. He was consoled on the floor by Huggins (Butler said his head coach had simply said he loved him and that he would be okay) before being carried off to a waiting golf cart, which took him to the locker room.

Initial indications are that the injury is only a sprain, and Butler said he will be fine in the coming days as he rests and ices the knee.

"I mean, I knew it was bad because Da' is a really tough guy," Huggins said. "Da'Sean is -- and I've said this repeatedly and I mean it -- he's a really, really good player. He's a lot better person. He's a wonderful, wonderful guy."

"When I went out (on the floor to talk to him), you know, it was more that he felt like he let his team down than it was about the injury. And that's Da'Sean. You know, that's the way he is. He's got such a great heart."

But Butler, who was apologizing to Huggins and his teammates on the floor as he prepared to be carried off, had nothing to be sorry about.

On this night, with the senior or without him, Duke was simply the superior team.

The Blue Devils' "Big Three" managed to outscore West Virginia in the opening half, tallying 33 points to the black-clad Mountaineers' 31. They did much of their damage from long range, hitting seven of their 14 attempts from beyond the arc (just one game after Kentucky had missed its first 20 3-pointers in the East Regional final).

But despite that production, and a staggering 17-10 edge in rebounding for the Blue Devils (leading to an equally troubling 12-0 advantage in second-chance points), Huggins and company found themselves trailing only 39-31 at the break.

They stayed within striking distance thanks to some key performances off the bench from John Flowers (who ended the game with eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers) and Deniz Kilicli (who scored four).

But their early second half rally was not enough, and Duke pulled away from a deflated Mountaineer team down the stretch after Butler's injury.

While those in the locker room were despondent after falling just short of a chance at a national championship, Huggins tried to put what is arguably the greatest season in school history into perspective.

"We thought we had a chance in the beginning of the year to be a good basketball team. We fought through a lot of things," he said, before detailing the eligibility issues that dogged Deniz Kilicli and the injury problems with Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant.

"I think through all of that, our guys have done a great job of persevering and working their way through things. They're good guys. They're guys who put the team and the welfare of others before themselves. That's a great character to have."

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