CRAWFORD | Super 'Nova! Villanova buzzer-beater stuns UNC in NCAA championship classic
This was a classic along the order of some of the biggest game-winners in sports, according to WDRB columnist Eric Crawford.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This was, 'The Giants win the pennant!' It was Christian Laettner in overtime. It was Michael Jordan saying goodbye with a step-back jumper in Utah. It was Lorenzo Charles at the buzzer.
Where it ranks among all those great moments, and so many others, can’t be determined tonight.
But Kris Jenkins of Villanova pulling up and burying a three pointer at the buzzer to beat North Carolina 77-74, just four seconds in game time after the Tar Heels’ Marcus Paige had buried an off-balance three-pointer to tie it in Monday night’s NCAA championship game, has to be in the same hallowed ballpark.
The NCAA championship game aired for the first-time ever on cable television, but this was straight Masterpiece Theater.
Score one for the Big East. The NCAA championship trophy, as it has now four times in six years, resides outside of the football-crazy Power 5. Score one for consummate team basketball. Villanova’s players were the hand in the glove of head coach Jay Wright, whose detailed defensive rotations frustrated what may well have been the best offensive team, and certainly the most talented team, in college basketball for much of the second half. To get to the title, Villanova beat Kansas, then Oklahoma, then North Carolina.
And score one for Wright, a native son all the way. Born in Churchville, Pa., his first Division I job was as an assistant at Drexel. Then Rollie Massimino hired him at Villanova. His first head-coaching job was at Hofstra.
When the game-winning shot went in on Monday night, you wouldn’t have known it from watching Wright. He mouthed a simple word as the shot was released. "Bang." After that? Stoicism.
Villanova was founded in 1842 by the Roman Catholic Order of Saint Augustine, an order devoted to living by The Rule of St. Augustine, which among other things prescribes “detachment from the world.”
For an example, see Wright, Jerold T. As the game-winner went through the net, and confetti-covered chaos ensued, his facial expression never changed. Not through the celebration, the streamers already falling in NRG Stadium even as officials reviewed whether the final shot left Jenkins’ hands in time, nor through the handshake line with North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Asked about his lack of emotion after, Wright gave a beautiful response.
“When you're a coach, you're always thinking about the next play,” he said in his postgame news conference. “I was really thinking, Is there going to be more time on the clock? I'm the adult. I got all these 18- and 22-year-olds around me. They're going to go crazy, and I'm going to have to get them gathered up here and we're going to have to defend a play with 0.7 seconds. That's what I was thinking. Then (North Carolina’s) Roy (Williams) came up to me while I was still waiting to see if it was real. We embraced and had a really nice talk. Then I went to Terry, the official. I said, Is this done or is it not? He goes, I think it's good, but it's not official. So I was really just in coaching mode, you know.”
Coaching mode. The final play of the game was one Villanova runs all the time in practice. They call it "Nova." The ball came in to guard Ryan Arcidiacano. It basically calls for a guard to get the ball, drive it up the court, then make a read. Arcidiacano dribbled up the left sideline, then crossed over to a right-hand dribble after passing the North Carolina bench, creating daylight for himself as he passed midcourt, drove with the right hand toward the top of the key, then turned to his right to see Jenkins, who had inbounded the ball, trailing the play unguarded. Actually, it's more accurate to say he heard Jenkins, who was screaming at him.
North Carolina had three defenders down low, and two inside the key. As Arcidiacano finished his pass, his body set a natural screen for Jenkins, who simply took the ball, gathered himself without dribbling from three feet behind the three-point line just to the right of the key, and buried the shot for the title.
Often, it’s Jenkins bringing the ball up the court. But because of that, he knew the guy who passes it inbounds often goes uncovered.
“I always take the ball up, so from previous games I realize when I take the ball out, the ball gets up the court, the defenders usually follow the ball,” Jenkins said. “I knew when I gave Arch the ball, he was going to be aggressive. They were going to try to take Arch away because he's hit big shots in his career. When they all followed the ball, I just knew if I got in his line of vision, he would find me.”
Said Arcidiacano: “At the end. All I heard was, Arch, Arch, Arch.”
“I was able to get in his field of vision,” Jenkins said. “I was open, so I was screaming at him. For him to be so unselfish and give up the ball, you know, it just shows what type of teammate he is, what type of person he is. You know, we put a lot of work in. This team, everybody has the confidence to catch and shoot. So when Arch threw me the ball, one, two step, shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets.”
Whatever that means, it sounds really cool.
You hit a shot like that, you can say anything you want. It was the first buzzer-beater to win an NCAA championship since N.C. State’s Lorenzo Charles grabbed Dereck Whittenburg’s off-target shot and put it in to upset Houston in the 1983 title game.
After the game, Whittenburg, now an associate A.D. at N.C. State, took to Twitter and wrote, “That was a pretty amazing pass by Arch reminds me of a pass I made once.”
Don’t underestimate the pass. Arcidiacano did everything but make the shot on his final play as a Villanova Wildcat, appropriately an assist to win the national championship. After the game, CBS’ Jim Nantz sought out Arcidiacano to give him his tie, something he does after every championship game for a player who inspired him.
“The last play, we were just calm in the huddle honestly,” he said. “We knew what we were going to do and we just executed. . . . Coach just had me in that situation throughout the year. It was just an honor to run that play. But I think maybe it just shows how much confidence we have in each other, we were just trying to find the right shot.”
That’s the great thing about this Villanova team, and by extension, the great thing about basketball. If you were looking for Villanova in the Scout.com Top 25 recruiting rankings the past four years, it’s not a misprint. It isn’t there. But together, with the right coaching, and through some frustrating tournament experiences, the team was better than its individual parts.
Wright even got a bit emotional listening to his players describe the final play. They did it so well, like coaches. There was nothing left to say. For him, and I wrote this after watching Villanova beat Kansas in the South Regional Final in the KFC Yum! Center, this was a push-button team. What he drew on the clipboard was what he saw on the court.
Raise your hand if you had sixth man Phil Booth going for a career-high 20 points in the NCAA championship game? Arcidiacano finished with 16, Jenkins 14, Josh Hart 12 and Daniel Ochefu nine. Villanova shot 58.3 percent, and made 8 of 14 three-pointers. It held North Carolina to 42.9 percent shooting, and won despite the Tar Heels firing a blistering 64.7 percent from beyond the arc, 11 of 17.
North Carolina’s 11 threes were the second-most ever in a Final Four game. And its three-point percentage was a new Final Four record.
For every game like this, there’s the other side of the coin. North Carolina really did nothing to lose the game. In fact, Paige appeared to make every play late to give the Tar Heels a chance to win it. He missed a shot in the lane with 27 seconds left, somehow came up with the rebound in traffic and found a hole to the rim to make a layup that cut North Carolina’s deficit to 72-71.
After a pair of Villanova free-throws, Paige took advantage of a Villanova slip to rise and, double clutching, bury a three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left.
“When they got down at the end, they executed everything perfectly,” Wright said. “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 threes. We were going to give up a two. 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 two, but to pull up, hit a three. Then we execute. That was just great college basketball. Two great teams. In a national championship game, to hit a shot at the buzzer, I mean, I haven't seen many better than that.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams couldn’t say enough about his team’s toughness. It had been criticized at times this season for being soft, but it needed some toughness to come back from 10 points down in the second half Monday.
“We ran a screen for me to hit the ball,” Paige said of his final shot. “I had a feeling Villanova would switch it, they did. Took it away. Daniel fell down, slipped on the court. I knew I was going to have to shoot it. My instinct kicked in right away to throw the ball to Brice (Johnson) right under the basket. That's why I hesitated with the ball when I jumped. Obviously we needed three. I told my team when I made the shot, we go to overtime, we got 4.7 seconds to play defense and this game is ours. No matter what, we were going to win the overtime 'cause that's just the how the game was going to go. We had clawed back from down 10. . . . At that point we believed we were going to win. We just needed 4.7 seconds of defense. It didn't work out. Kris is their best three-point shooter. He got a pretty clean look for whatever reason.”
Joel Berry was asked what it felt like in the moment Jenkins’ game-winning shot went in.
“I mean, something that you can't describe,” he said. “I mean, just to see that ball go in. I was hoping that, you know, it was out of his hand when the -- I mean, it was still in his hand when the light came on. I looked up at the screen and I saw it and it was good. You know, just that feeling of walking off the court, feeling the confetti fall, but it's not for you. It's a horrible feeling.”
Williams, watching from the sideline, felt the same thing.
“You know, I wanted him to be more covered,” Williams said. “I hoped we'd get up to him closer. I really felt like we'd gotten him to do what we wanted to do. They weren't able to throw it any length of the court, save any time. They had to take it about 75 feet before they get to the basket. But when the shot went up, I saw Kris shoot it, his follow-through looked great. I pretty much knew it was going in. It was helpless. It was not a good feeling. That coach, I said in the locker room, Jay I love, Jay does a great job. His kids played so hard, played so well. Shot so well and defended like crazy. But I would take my kids, because they've been great for Roy Williams. . . . I wish I could have done more for them.”
After the celebration, Wright walked off the court with his arm around former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, who won Villanova’s other NCAA title with an upset of Georgetown in 1985. He stopped to do a radio interview with John Thompson, who coached that Georgetown team.
“Very rewarding for me,” Wright said. “Everyone in coaching has to be given a chance by somebody. You don't have internships or apprenticeships in coaching where you learn the craft. Somebody has to give you the opportunity, then they have to spend the time with you to teach you. He did that for me. To share this with him, our Villanova people love him. He's a magical figure. . . . We did a Westwood One interview with John Thompson. That's where it was going. It was awesome with those two. I love that stuff. I still remember the days when they were going against each other. So it was really rewarding for me.”
And it will be rewarding for the new Big East, not a part of the so-called Power 5, but plenty powerful enough when it comes to college basketball, with two titles in the past five years.
“I'm really, really happy for the Big East,” Wright said. “I'm really proud of them. You know, we got beat this year by Providence. We got beat by Seton Hall. We got beat by Xavier. It's very obvious any one of those teams could be here. We're a new entity that college basketball just is trying to figure out, you know. And I just hope the Power Five sees a value in us as a part of all of this in basketball. We want to keep up with the Power Five. We want to do everything they're doing, just do it in basketball. I hope this gives us a place at the table because basketball is really important to all these schools. I hope the power five schools can see that we're really important to college basketball, the league.”
On Monday night, no one was more important.
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