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Remembering the near-buzzer-beater from Gordon Hayward and how an NCAA Tournament underdog almost toppled a giant

We revisit one of the biggest near-upsets of all time and the feelings felt from Butler fans then and now.

Duke University vs Butler University, 2010 NCAA National Championship

As March Madness is almost here, we take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the best viral moments in NCAA tournament history. Here is Big East Coast Bias’ take on the almost miracle shot from Gordon Hayward:

April 5, 2010 will be a day that Butler Bulldogs fans won’t ever forget.

For better or worse.

Going into that Monday, the Dawgs were well-traveled. Their journey to this point began out in San Jose, California. A 5 seed, the Bulldogs had to go through the UTEP Miners first. After sending them packing, the 13-seeded Murray State Racers were next. The Racers’ upset bid was denied by late free throws from Ronald Nored. Nored completed a three-point play that helped them move to the Sweet 16. They took on some good competition but survived and advanced as many other dance-crashers had done before them.

Butler had to take a Big East team down next: The top-seeded Syracuse Orange. ‘Cuse was 30-4 that season and figured to be a threat to cut down the nets. And yet, Butler advanced through to the Elite Eight. A bid for the Final Four in Indianapolis was on the line next. After beating Kansas State, Butler seemed poised to make history.

In years prior, Butler had built up a rapport. But they’d never quite struck like this. A recipe for an unforgettable ride was fully in motion. And the effects were wide-reaching. Even for Butler fans who weren’t around Indianapolis on that day.

“It was a massive day for me,” Kevin Urquhart, a 27-year old Butler fan and former writer at Big East Coast Bias recalled. Urquhart detailed being in high school in Utah at the time. Most people, he says, had never even heard of Butler before. It was a quirk that people around him knew of. After that run to the title game though Urquhart says that things changed.

“It was nothing but respect,” Urquhart recollected. “I was wearing my Butler gear at school and I was getting almost reverent treatment. Everyone knew it was a huge day for me. Even some teachers and coaches wished me luck.”

Another Butler fan was enjoying themselves a bit differently further out west. Molly Carlino, a now-29-year old native of Indianapolis and fan of the Dawgs, was out in the Golden State. “I was in California on Spring Break. I remember bringing a different Butler T-shirt for just about every day of the week,” Carlino remembered, invoking something that stood out that day for herself: Having pride in the Dawgs.

“I felt so much pride being across the country and watching my hometown team playing in the National Title Game,” Carlino said. “Being from Indiana, we’re naturally born inclined to love basketball, but rarely did you get to see teams from Indiana on such a big stage.”

The game would begin and Butler and Duke stood on even ground. The formidable Blue Devils, who played the role of hated Goliath well, did not inch too far from the plucky Bulldogs. The Blue Devils only held a slim, one-point lead at halftime. So what was the buzz at the break?

“Butterflies,” Urquhart described it as. “Anxiety,” Carlino chimed in as well.

The second half played out the way it did. Neither team finessed their way from the other. But it was a five-point game and Butler needed someone to step up. So Matt Howard would swoop in and score on two consecutive possessions. Those buckets thinned the lead to one point with 54 seconds remaining.

“They were going to do it again,” Urquhart recalls thinking as he watched the Dawgs roaring back. “The Dawgs had won 25 games in a row and often won by the skin of their teeth. They just found a way no matter how dire the situation — and here they were, doing it again.” Kevin thought for certain that they were a team of destiny and they would not be denied, and that thought was unknowingly shared by Molly as well. “This is it, this team can do this,” she believed.

With only seconds remaining, Duke’s Brian Zoubek went to the free throw line. Zoubek, a 55.1% shooter at the FT line that season, made his first and then missed the second. Gordon Hayward grabbed the ball and from there, things accelerate.

So what were these two Butler fans thinking?

“Absolutely nothing,” Carlino admitted. “When I think about that shot in my head, my breath immediately stops. I can feel goosebumps.”

“The odds are always long on a shot like that. In my heart, I felt that if there was justice in the world the shot would go down,” Urquhart trusted.

“I’m right back to sitting on the hotel couch,” Carlino thought back while watching the shot go up. “The minute it left his hands, you knew it had a chance.”

“Butler accomplishing so much, playing in their city, the fact that it was the biggest, baddest, blue-blood villain possible on the other side... even though it was a desperate heave, I knew it would go in,” Urquhart hoped, wished, and everything in between.

“It looked good,” Carlino stated. “It looked so good.”

(Butler fans, you know what’s coming next. Scroll down if you must)

A desperate heave, a long-shot prayer unanswered. The clunk of the ball hitting the rim, that sound? Enough to give even the most casual, sympathetic observer to feel bad. And in case you are wondering? It’s still being felt 12 years later.

“Every time I see the video or hear about the play, the old wound opens up,” Urquhart conceded, grazing over old scars. Urquhart says much of the bitterness comes with him being young at the time, but it still wrecks him now. “The bitter end devastated me like nothing else in sports ever has.”

He wishes he could appreciate it for what it was, but says it’s pretty much impossible. “All I can think about is just how CLOSE it was to being a perfect story. I believe that if Hayward’s shot had gone down, it would be remembered as the greatest moment in college basketball history.”

When Molly relives it, similar feelings rise to the surface. “Honestly, I always picture Matt Howard lying at center court surrounded by confetti,” she confessed. “I don’t think there’s any better way to embody the juxtaposition of how positive I felt when the ball left Gordon’s hands to when it hit the rim.” She says any time she watches the clip, her heart still drops every time she hears that thud. “That was their chance,” she proclaimed. “And an inch kept it away from them.”

Years later, this Butler team is still discussed. It’s arguable to say that this run helped launch them in a position to be in the Big East Conference. But they may well never get that close again, and still, it’s a tough thing to talk about for Butler fans and the like to not think about.