Butler’s seven game-winning shots are well-documented. Smith has made his big shots by saving the Blue Devils from a series of empty possessions.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Smith has done it a number of times, essentially bailing out the Blue Devils.
“It’s not just to win a game, but when we’re up by six with two minutes left and we’re using clock and then boom he hits a shot or gets fouled,’’ Krzyzewski said. “Nolan is the unsung hero of our team, and while everyone saw that against Baylor when he scored 20 points, when he scores points it’s pretty good.’’
Krzyzewski said it reminded him of the way in which former Blue Devil player David Henderson used to score for the Blue Devils. It would be at opportune times. That’s the key for Smith, he makes winning plays throughout the course of the game, not just at the end of the game.
“I’ve done it a lot of times,’’ Smith said. “You don’t want the shot clock violations so you have to get as shot up.’’
The reason Smith takes and makes these shots is easy: he’s the only one who can create his own shot.
“He can really create and has that ability to create off the dribble and he has the guts,’’ Duke senior guard Jon Scheyer said. “He can put those things together and find a way to get a bucket when we need it.’’
What also makes Smith so effective is his ability to convert the mid-range shots, which happens quite a bit when you’re in a late shot clock situation.
“He’s one of those guys in college basketball who is a very good in-between player,’’ Krzyzewski said. “He can make a lot of in-between shots from the 3-point line to the goal.’’
Butler said that the harder of the two shots to make is the one at the end of the shot clock.
“In my situation, the game has been tied, so any buzzer-beater I hit is either going to send the game into overtime or everyone is happy,’’ Butler said.
Yet, just like Smith, the Mountaineers have faith in Butler in late-shot situations.
“We’d rather have the ball in his hands than anyone else,’’ said West Virginia senior Joe Mazzulla.
“My teammates and my coach put me in the right spots,’’ Butler said. “My teammates set me up for those shots and put the confidence in me and get the ball. It’s just a matter of me just playing. They give me space and I’ve been successful with that.”