The Villanova Wildcats won what might have been the greatest NCAA Championship Game in history on Monday night, beating the North Carolina Tar Heels on a three-pointer at the buzzer by Kris Jenkins. The final shot ruined a courageous North Carolina comeback from 10 points down with less than five minutes remaining.
Carolina’s comeback was complete when Marcus Paige made a circus, double clutch three pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds remaining. After a Villanova timeout, Ryan Arcidiacono brought the ball to the front court and found an open Jenkins who swished the championship-winning shot as the horn sounded.
The Villanova bench rushed the court as indoor fireworks and streamers provided the sights and sounds of a dramatic ending to the college basketball season. Villanova Coach Jay Wright somehow stayed composed as the game ended, but he was happy to describe what happened in the final five seconds.
“We have an end-of-game situation play like that,” said Wright. “We put the ball in Archie’s (Arcidiacono) hands. It’s Arch’s job to make the desision. Kris told him he was going to be open and Arch made a perfect pass.”
Both teams had some early jitters, but quickly settled in. After going back and forth, North Carolina built a 39-32 as the first half neared its end. However, sophomore Phil Booth hit a jumper just before the buzzer to cut the lead to five at half time.
The Villanova game plan called for packing in their defense to limit the touches for the imposing front line of North Carolina. It worked because All-American Brice Johnson and the bruising Kennedy Meeks only had seven points combined at half time.
This left the Tar Heels open for three-point shots, which was a reasonable gamble because they shot only 31 percent from behind the three-point arc all season. In the first half, they hit seven of their nine three-point attempts to compensate for the Wildcats’ ability to take away their inside game.
Despite the fact Villanova shot 58 percent in the first half, they still trailed. Apopka, Florida native Joel Berry II had a huge half for North Carolina, leading all scorers with 15 points that included three-for-three on three-point shots.
The Wildcats could only hope North Carolina cooled off in the second half. They did, but only slightly.
A jumper by Booth gave Villanova their first lead of the second half, 46-44 with 13:33 remaining. Two free throws by Booth with 5:29 remaining gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game at 67-57.
Berry’s three with 3:44 left brought Carolina within 67-64, but Booth again countered with a jumper. With 13 seconds remaining, Josh Hart calmly made two free throws to make it 74-71.
This set up the most frantic five seconds in championship game history where both teams combined to score six points in that brief, but memorable span.
It was a crushing loss for North Carolina and their coach, Roy Williams.
“I’m not very good because I can’t take away the hurt,” said Williams. “I told them that I loved them. I told them I wish I could have helped them more.”
When Jenkins shot went through the net, Villanova had their second NCAA Championship. Monday’s victory came 31 years after Villanova shocked heavily-favored Georgetown by shooting 78 percent to steal the title.
Booth led the Wildcats in scoring with a career-high 20 points. Arcidiacono, voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, added 16 and Jenkins had 14.
For the Tar Heels, who were seeking their sixth title, Paige led them in scoring with 21 points along with six assists. Berry added 20 and Johnson had 12.
North Carolina, who shot 53 percent in the first half, finished the game shooting 43 percent. They wound up shooting nine of 17 on three-point attempts.
Villanova continued their hot shooting in Houston. They made 58 percent of their shots to go along with the 71 percent they shot against Oklahoma in the semi-finals.
The Wildcats finish the season with a 35-5 record. North Carolina winds up at 33-7.
It was a shame someone had to lose.