Villanova blew a 10-point lead in the final five minutes Monday and won a national championship. It watched North Carolina’s Marcus Paige make two of the most outrageous baskets of any title game ever to tie this with 4.7 seconds remaining, at which point most no-longer-leading teams would have been devastated. Like Syracuse after Keith Smart. Like Memphis after Mario Chalmers.
Villanova was not devastated. Villanova ran a tremendous play. Ryan Arcidiacono took the inbounds pass and dribbled across midcourt, and just when it seemed the guard whose dad played football at Nova would take the last shot, he dealt it back to Kris Jenkins, who rose and let fly from 22 feet, just over the onrushing 6-foot-10 Isaiah Hicks.
Jenkins’ shot hit nothing but championship nylon. Nova 77, Carolina 74. What a finish. What a game.
“I saw it,” Villanova center Daniel Ochefu said of Jenkins’ title-winning trey. “It was like it was in slow motion. I’m still trying to grasp what’s happening here.”
“I was hoping it was still in his hand when the light came on,” Carolina guard Joel Berry II said. “I looked up at the (video) screen and I saw it and it was good. That feeling of walking off the court, feeling the confetti fall, but it’s not for you — it’s a horrible feeling.”
“The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is so small,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “The difference in your feelings is so large.”
“It is still surreal,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I don’t think I’ve really digested this yet. I’m still in my coaching mind, making sure we handle things properly, making sure we cut down the net correctly, we take care of our responsibilities here. I don’t think this has hit me yet.”
It was the third championship game to end on a buzzer basket: In 1963, Loyola’s Vic Rouse followed Les Hunter’s miss to beat Cincinnati; in 1983, Lorenzo Charles of North Carolina State grabbed Dereck Whittenburg’s air ball and dunked it home to stun Houston’s Phi Slama Jama. Never, however, has a title game seen two such astonishing shots in its final five seconds.
Paige’s 3-pointer to tie with 4.7 seconds left was a wonder. Villanova tried to bait him into driving inside the arc, but Paige leaped, double-clutched and slung the ball into the goal from what seemed his hip. Carolina had rallied from 10 points down to tie the national championship game, and surely the favored Tar Heels would prevail now.
Said Paige: “I told my team when I made the shot, ‘We got 4.7 seconds to play defense and this game is ours. No matter what, we were going to win the overtime’ — because that’s just the how the game was going to go. We had clawed back from down 10 … We just needed 4.7 seconds of defense. It didn’t work out. Kris is their best 3-point shooter. He got a pretty clean look for whatever reason.”
Then this: “You know, there’s 75 possessions in the game. They just happened to get the last one and make the shot.”
Villanova practices the play it ran to win the national championship every day. Jenkins inbounds the ball to Arcidiacono. Ochefu sets a backcourt screen. Arcidiacono speed-dribbles and either shoots himself (Option 1) or looks for Options 2 (Josh Hart, coming off a Phil Booth screen) or 3 (Booth, done with screening). And if everything breaks right — and everything did this one last time — Jenkins runs hard and presents himself as a trailer.
Jenkins ran hard. No Heel ran with him. He yelled, “Arch! Arch! Arch!”
Archidiacono: “It’s not about me taking the right shot; it’s about me making the right read. I think I just did that.”
The first 39 minutes and 55.3 seconds were pretty terrific, too. Carolina, which relies on the 3-point shot less than any good team in the land, made seven first-half treys to seize a five-point halftime lead. The jumpers stopped falling for the Heels after the break; their fearsome inside game never got started.
They trailed 67-57 with 4:43 to play, 70-64 with 91 seconds left. Then Paige hit a corner 3-pointer off an inbounds pass. Arcidiacono flung the ball out of bounds. Brice Johnson sank a banker. Booth made two free throws. Paige wrested his missed layup from the grasp of better-positioned Wildcats and flipped it home. Hart made a pair. Nova by three, 13.5 seconds to go.
And then Paige doubled-clutched and Arcidiacono found Jenkins, and a great game became something more. Both teams did what they needed on their final possession. As Paige said, Villanova just had it last.
Wright: “They had a great first half. We had a great second half. Neither one of us could break each other. The plays they made down the stretch, they executed.”
Then: “When they got down at the end, they executed everything perfectly. Even to the point, when they needed it, when they had the ball with 13 seconds, we were in a defense that does not allow 3s. We were going to give up a 2. We were going to foul with under five seconds. Daniel Ochefu goes for that steal, and Marcus Paige has the intelligence to not go by him and shoot a 2, but to pull up, hit a 3. Then we execute. That was just great college basketball. Two great teams.”
Then: “In a national championship game, to hit a shot at the buzzer — I mean, I haven’t seen many better than that.”
On April 1, 1985, Villanova authored the greatest performance in tournament history, making 78.6 percent of its shots to fell No. 1 Georgetown. That one ended with Dwayne McClain clutching an inbounds pass while lying on the floor. As great as that game was, it didn’t have this finish. No NCAA final has ever had this finish, not even N.C. State over Houston.
“He was wide open,” Ochefu said of Jenkins. “The rest is history.”
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