INDIANAPOLIS - Da'Sean Butler sat in the corner of the West Virginia locker room with ice on his sprained left knee, crutches laying nearby.
Encircled by a media horde in a locker room at Lukas Oil Stadium, his face was red and puffy as he talked about how he wanted the last portion of his life back.
"I would do anything for those last 14 minutes back," Butler said.
With 8:59 remaining in Duke's 78-57 victory over West Virginia in the national semifinals, the 6-foot-7 Newark native drove baseline, saw Duke big man Brian Zoubek coming to take the charge and planted "a little bit too hard."
"It kind of buckled a little bit and I just fell," said Butler, who was diagnosed with a sprained knee.
The air went out of West Virginia's balloon after the injury and Duke cruised into its first national championship game since 2001 when it defeated Arizona.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski will seek his fourth national title when Duke (34-5) meets the hometown hero Butler Bulldogs (33-4) Monday night. The Bulldogs advanced to their first NCAA title game with a 52-50 victory over Michigan State, their 25th straight victory.
"Hopefully we can say we lost to the champions," Da'Sean Butler said.
With his team trailing 62-48, Butler lay on the floor underneath the basket imagining the worse, wondering if he might have torn his ACL like Purdue's Robbie Hummel. Duke fans chanted his name as he lay on his back.
"I hope this isn't what I think it is," Butler thought to himself.
As West Virginia coach Bob Huggins and the team orthopedist knelt over him, Butler felt like he let his team down.
There was a tremendously touching moment when Huggins, often perceived as a gruff and tough guy, held Butler's head in his hands and told him, "Don't be sorry, I love you."
"He's a wonderful, wonderful guy," Huggins later said. "When I went it was more he felt he let his team down than it was about the injury. And that's DaSean. You know, that's the way he is. He's got such a great heart."
Butler was helped off the floor and couldn't put any weight on his left knee.
Back in the locker room he considered trying to come back, but said, "I wasn't moving that quickly."
Without Butler, the third-leading scorer in West Virginia history behind Jerry West and "Hot Rod" Hundley with 2,095 points, West Virginia went flat.
The Big East tournament champions were outscored 15-9 after Butler departed.
Duke's Big Three of Jon Scheyer (23 points), Kyle Singler (21 points) and Nolan Smith (19) outscored West Virginia's entire team, 63-57. Those three went 12 of 23 from behind the arc.
The Duke backcourt of Scheyer and Smith combined for 12 assists and no turnovers.
West Virginia's Big Three of Butler (10 points), Devin Ebanks (11 points) and Kevin Jones (6) managed just 27 points and the entire Mountaineers team was 5 of 12 from beyond the arc.
"That was the difference between them and us," Butler said. "They had open looks and they made them and we didn't."
Said Smith: "We definitely came out and played a complete game. You know, the team was ready. We knew it was going to be a 40-minute war."
Butler was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament, when he hit a game-winning 3-pointer in overtime to defeat Cincinnati and then scored on a driving layup to down Georgetown in the final.
He never imagined his college career would end this suddenly.
"We settled for just being fourth. What can you take from that? Nothing," Butler said.
In the locker room after the game, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin spoke to the team and told them how much they meant to the people of the state.
"I just told them how proud the state was of them, what they've done for our state," Manchin said. They're having a hard time right now but they'll hold their heads high. They're going to be fine."
He added: "The bottom line is it isn't our last appearance. We'll be here many more times. This is a prelude of more good things to come."