HOUSTON, TEXAS—The 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship was one for the ages. I cannot remember an instance, on a stage that big, a period separated by 4.7 seconds, where complete jubilation and utter disappointment was felt by both teams cohesively.
The Villanova Wildcats stunned most of the basketball world with a victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 on Monday night. The path that they took to reach that final game was almost just as impressive.
In the Round of 32, ‘Nova beat the 7-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes by 19. Then in the Sweet 16, they beat the highly touted Jim Larranaga led Miami Hurricanes by 23. The Wildcats then had to face-off against the tournament favorite in the #1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks. The game was hard-fought, but Villanova’s defensive prowess gave them a 64-59 victory. The final four bout was set for a match-up with the #2 seeded Oklahoma Sooners, and arguably the nation’s best overall player in Buddy Hield. Not only was Villanova’s defense on display against the Sooners, but an offensive explosion took hold and ‘Nova defeated Oklahoma 95-51, the biggest margin of victory in Final Four history.
Their journey to Monday night took them through a 7-seed, a 3-seed, a 1-seed, and a 2-seed, and now they once again face a 1-seed in North Carolina.
The Wildcats entered NRG Stadium as 2-point underdogs and felt that yet again they had to prove to the world that they were for real.
The game proved to be one of the great ones. Both teams went shot for shot. Roy Williams and Jay Wright exemplified what a great coaching battle is all about.
The largest lead of the game came at 5:29 in the second half when Villanova led 67-57. The deficit didn’t last long, but the Wildcats never trailed again.
With 11 seconds to go in the game, the Tar Heels trailed by three. After dribbling up the court, the ball found its way into Marcus Paige’s hands. Off balance, Paige double-clutched in mid-air and threw up a prayer from beyond the arc. By some miracle, the shot rattled through the basket. The score was now tied at 74 with 4.7 seconds left. The North Carolina faithful went nuts, full of exhilaration.
Now it was Jay Wright’s turn to draw something up. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono took the ball up the court. He dished the ball to his right where Kris Jenkins was calling for it.
“I think every shot’s going in,” Jenkins told ESPN, “and this one was no different.”
As the whole crowd stood breathless, waiting for what seemed like forever for this one shot to decide the fate of the game, the ball careened downward through the basket, hitting nothing but net.
What the Tar Heels fans felt not five seconds ago, Villanova now felt two-fold.
Marcus Paige of North Carolina led all scorers with 21 points. Ryan Arcidiacono led the Wildcats with 16, and Kris Jenkins followed with 14 points, but none bigger than the final three that gave his team the Naismith Trophy.
It was Villanova’s first title since 1985, and the second for the men’s basketball program in the school’s history.