INDIANAPOLIS -- Finally.
Seemingly, for every person who has tried and tried and tried to succeed at a task, only to come up a little short, and especially for all their players who have failed in the last six years, the Duke Blue Devils finally made it.
Yes, the score over Kansas was only 72-65, and yes, the last two minutes seemed like a replay of some old horror movie, or film from a previous Final Four appearance, but this ending was so different.
"These kids have had a great month of March. We finally won a game in April," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, in claiming his first national championship in five trips to the Final Four, including all of the last four years.
And after slaying its biggest dragon, Nevada-Las Vegas Saturday night, anything less than the title would have been hollow.
"Beating UNLV was important to us, yes, but it meant nothing if we couldn't get this," said junior forward Brian Davis, who claimed a sign from a fan that read "Duke Dynasty."
With all but one regular returning for next season, plus the addition of two of the country's best schoolboy recruits, talk of dynasties may not be so foolish, even in a place where the recent talk has been of albatrosses or Broncos or Vikings.
It was somehow appropriate that the date of Duke's redemption was April Fool's Day, as the championship was nearly pulled back from it like a yo-yo on a string.
After leading by 14 with 8:30 left, the Blue Devils began to fumble, stumble and collapse their way home.
With 34.8 seconds left, the Jayhawks trailed by just five, and only a quick call from Krzyzewski to guard Thomas Hill to call timeout 1.2 seconds before Duke could be called for a 10-second backcourt violation, kept the Blue Devils from setting themselves up for another heartbreak.
"When there were 30 seconds left, I thought we had a chance to win," said Kansas guard Adonis Jordan. "All year long, we've been a team that played for 40 minutes and I thought we could pull it out."
But it was the Blue Devils who pulled the yo-yo away before Kansas could grab it and captured their first title in nine trips to the Final Four.
"There wasn't any time during the game when I thought we were not in control of the game," said center Christian Laettner, who was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, scoring 18 points and yanking down 10 rebounds last night after scoring 28 points against Nevada-Las Vegas Saturday.
"I spent a lot of time during the game in the middle of the lane watching my teammates play great defense."
That is what the Blue Devils (32-7) have done during Krzyzewski's 11 years at Duke and last night was no exception. Duke held Kansas (27-8) to 41.5 percent shooting from the floor and consistently harassed the Jayhawks at the point of attack, making it difficult for Kansas to initiate its offensive set.
"Even when we tried to come back in little spurts, they'd thwart it," said Kansas center Mark Randall, who, like his friend Laettner, led his team with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
"They played a great defense. They made it hard for us to get the ball to Mark," said Jordan.
The Jayhawks didn't help themselves though, missing countless shots in the lane.
"I've never seen the basket have a lid on it like it did tonight," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "I thought we got some very good shots and we didn't put them down. Duke did and that's why they're celebrating and we're not."
"We missed a lot of layups," said Mike Maddox, a Kansas senior forward who played on the Jayhawks' 1988 national title team. "You put pressure on them by scoring and we couldn't hit the easy baskets, and that makes it tough to keep the pressure on."
By contrast, Duke capitalized on nearly every situation, forcing turnovers and hitting big shots as necessary, to the tune of a 56.1 percent field goal performance.
"We've always said that teams don't beat us, we beat ourselves," said Davis, a Capitol Heights native. "We just didn't want to beat ourselves."
And so they didn't. The Blue Devils, who captured the first national championship for the ACC in eight years, jumped out to an early 9-2 lead and never trailed, with Greg Koubek, the only player in NCAA history to play in four Final Fours, nailing a three-point shot to start the game.
Late in the half, though, Kansas made a move, drawing to within five (39-34) on reserve forward David Johanning's follow-up with 56 seconds left.
However, Thomas Hill sank a three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to give Duke a 42-34 intermission lead and renewed optimism.
"The end of the half was big," said Williams. "We had a chance to be closer and didn't take advantage of the opportunity."
"That was a major momentum builder for us and it helped going into the locker room with that on our minds," said Thomas Hill.