HOUSTON, Texas — What a shot.
Junior forward Kris Jenkins hit a three at the buzzer, and No. 2 seed Villanova won the NCAA men’s basketball national championship in thrilling fashion over No. 1 seed North Carolina, 77-74, at NRG Stadium in Houston.
It’s the first buzzer-beater on a three-pointer in national championship history. Villanova also became the first team to win the national championship game on a buzzer-beater since N.C. State defeated Houston 54-52 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1983. Monday’s game marked the 33rd anniversary of that 1983 championship game.
The win is Villanova’s second championship in program history, the first coming in 1985. It’s also the first championship for head coach Jay Wright, his first appearance in a national title game.
UNC senior guard Marcus Paige’s acrobatic three-point shot with 4.7 seconds remaining had given UNC life, tying it at 74. Seat cushions flew all over the stadium in celebration.
But it was premature.
Jenkins, who finished the night with 16 points, snuffed out UNC’s hopes of a sixth championship with a dagger as the horn sounded.
After the game, he was asked if he knew the shot was good.
“I think every shot is going in,” Jenkins said. “So that one was no different.”
Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who set up Jenkins for the game-winner, was named Most Outstanding Player. He finished with 16 points.
“Ryan Arcidiacono, he’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with,” Jenkins said. “For a senior to get the ball and make the right play and not try to shoot the ball in double coverage just shows a lot about him and what he’s about and how he’s just all about winning.”
A close one throughout
UNC (33-7) gained control in the final minutes by sweeping the glass for rebounds and knocking down threes (hitting 7 of 9 for 77.8%) and went to the locker room with a 39-34 lead, undoubtedly making Michael Jordan, a UNC alum who was in attendance, happy for the moment.
But in the second half, Villanova (35-5) grabbed the lead with a three from sophomore guard Phil Booth to make it 49-46 with 12:46 remaining.
UNC never regained the lead.
Arcidiacono kept the momentum going for the Wildcats, scoring nine of Villanova’s next 16 points. With free throws, Booth extended the lead to 67-57 with 5:29 left.
Booth, who started the night on the bench, finished with a career-high 20 points to lead Villanova. Junior guard Josh Hart had 12 points.
Paige, who led all scorers with 21 points, cut Villanova’s lead to 72-71 with 22 seconds remaining with a three. He finished 4-of-7 from three-point range.
But Josh Hart sunk two free throws with 13 seconds remaining to extend the lead to 74-71, setting up a frantic finish.
“Our teammates, we just fought,” Arcidiacono said. “At halftime, we said we needed to play 20 minutes of Villanova basketball and in the second half, we just fought. We made remarkable plays at the end of the game. I love this team.”
Devastation for UNC
Williams had a sinking feeling when Jenkins took the final shot.
“When the shot went up, I saw Kris shoot it, his follow-through looked great,” Williams said. “I pretty much knew it was going in. It was helpless. It was not a good feeling.”
The loss denied head coach Roy Williams from winning a third national title and the Tar Heels from winning their sixth in program history.
In addition to Paige’s output, sophomore guard Joel Berry II had 20 points, while senior forward Brice Johnson had 14.
This was the first time that UNC and Villanova have played each other in the national championship game. UNC is now 5-2 against the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament.
“The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is so small,” Williams said. “The difference in your feelings is so large. But that’s the NCAA tournament. That’s college basketball.”
Party like it’s 1985
The Wildcats won their first national championship in since 1985, which is the second-longest drought between titles.
That first one was magical: In 1985, the first time the NCAA tournament had expanded to 64 teams, Villanova, coached by Rollie Massimino and seeded 8th, shot 78.6% from the field — still an NCAA championship record — and defeated No. 1 Georgetown 66-64.
“It’s a great honor to be in that class with the ’85 team,” Arcidiacono said. “Just to know we’ll be kind of in the same sentence is an honor.”
As for that final play, Arcidiacono said that’s one that they work on every single day at practice.
“I wanted to be aggressive,” Arcidiacono said. “If I could get a shot, I was going to shoot it. But I heard someone screaming in the back of my head. It was Kris. I just gave it to him, and he let it go with confidence.”
Said Jenkins, “When (UNC) followed the ball, I just knew if I got in his line of vision, he would find me.”
There was another type of history associated with this year’s men’s national championship game. It’s the first time it was on cable television. The main game broadcast is on TBS, which like CNN, is a Time Warner company.
This year, parity had been the theme in men’s college basketball.
Throughout the season, there wasn’t one dominant team. Six teams — including UNC and Villanova — have been ranked No. 1 this season. And while it was assumed that the NCAA tournament was up for grabs, Monday night’s final consisted of two of the best teams in the nation.
Celebrations… and arrests
Eight Villanova fans were arrested during celebrations following the game, according to Lt. Chris Flanagan with the Radnor, Pennsylvania, police department.
Flanagan says one person was also cited for criminal mischief.
A number of injuries were reported: Thirty-seven people were treated at an area triage center; seven people were also transported to a local hospital. Flanagan says all the injuries were minor.