Villanova wins at buzzer in the greatest title game in history

“Head Over Heels”, by Tears for Fears

Found on many Greatest Hits albums and other various recordings

Second 31 year gap for Villanova ends in dramatic fashion on Kris Jenkins jumper at the buzzer

In terms of overall drama, 1983 probably gets the nod for how North Carolina State kept hanging around and hanging with Phi Slamma Jamma before nipping the Houston Cougars at the buzzer in the most unlikeliest of baskets.  That was when Lorenzo Charles stuffed a 35 foot air ball from Derrick Whittenburg as time was running out.  The most indelible image seconds after the buzzer ended that game was the late, great North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano dashing around the court looking for someone to hug.

As for Villanova’s first title in 1985, which I still can remember to this very day–that group of Wildcats was an 8 seed that performed the “perfect game” which toppled the once proud and mighty Georgetown Hoyas in Lexington, Kentucky.  The major talk at that time was a dynasty in the making, but Georgetown failed to repeat and hasn’t been back since.

But in terms of overall excitement, intensity, courage, and pure heart, it will be awfully difficult to top Monday night, April the 4th of 2016 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.  This night will go down in the history books as simply one great championship game played by two superior teams that ruled the sport of men’s college basketball.

Going into this championship game, North Carolina had a combined 202 point margin of victory, which is an NCAA Tournament record.  North Carolina had won five of the previous six matchups in tournament play.  Only Marquette and Kentucky have met more often in years past during the Big Dance, a total of ten times.

The first half saw both teams go through a feeling out process.  The game was tied at 7 when 3 1/2 minutes had elapsed by the time Justin Jackson hit the first of his three shots from long distance.

Josh Hart for Villanova drained a three of his own at the 13 minute mark.  North Carolina by this juncture hit only 3 of their first 12 shots from the field.  But Brice Johnson was then about to be unleashed like a cobra out of his box.  His alley-oop dunk and foul on Mikal Bridges along with his subsequent three point play cut Villanova’s lead to 14-12 with 12:34 left in the first half.

The game went back and forth as Jackson made his second three pointer off an assist from Marcus Paige to tie the game at 19 with nine minutes left.  Josh Hart then came back a few seconds later with a nifty layup to put Villanova back in the lead at 21-19.  Marcus Paige then nailed a three of his own to give North Carolina the lead at 22-21 before Hart made another layup and Villanova briefly led once more at 23-22.  After a third straight long distance shot from the Tar Heels, Villanova raced back the other way following a careless turnover. Josh Hart made a huge 15 foot jumper as time expired to end the first half.  What would have been a nine point lead and a possible sixth title down Tobacco Road, suddenly it was a five point margin at 39-34 at the half.  There were six ties and eight lead changes during the first 20 minutes.

The second 20 minutes proved to be memorable in many ways:

It started ominously for North Carolina as Marcus Paige committed his third personal foul with 12:24 remaining.  Villanova took full advantage of his absence and went on a 17-7 run capped by a Phil Booth three pointer with 12:49 to play.  The Wildcats lead grew to 53-46 with senior Ryan Arcidiacono converting on a jump shot.  The Philadelphia native would go on to shoot 6 of 9 and finish with 16 points on the night before being named as the 2016 Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

North Carolina was not about to quit in the final 5 minutes and 12 seconds of regulation time.  Brice Johnson’s dunk and Joel Berry II’s three cut the lead to three at 67-64.  After a few timeouts on both sides, Johnson and Paige both converted on jump shots to trim the lead to one (70-69 with 1:10 to go and 72-71 with 24 seconds left).

After Johnson fouled Josh Hart with 14 seconds to play, he calmly sank both free throws to put Villanova up by three at 74-71.  With time running out, Marcus Paige double clutched on his shot but with his body pulling him towards the three point line, he somehow made the shot as the ball rattled around the bottom part of the rim four times before settling in through the nylon to tie the game once more at 74.

According to the political website, Villanova had a 58 percent chance of hitting a game-winning three as time expired.

Jay Wright then used his final time out with 4.7 seconds showing on the clock to draw the play that will live forever.

Albeit North Carolina was not thinking foul, the play seemed timeless and seamless.

The historic call by Jim Nantz as seen on TBS:

Kris Jenkins grabbed the pass from Ryan Arcidiacono and made the championship winning three point basket as time expired.

Villanova’s dramatic 77-74 victory over top seed North Carolina sent shockwaves across the college basketball landscape.  Yet Jay Wright can bask in the “surreal” glow of winning it all and yet, he shares select company with Rollie Massimino.

ESPN flashed this ironic stat just a few minutes after I posted this blog:

Both Jay Wright and Rollie Massimino had been 20-10 in NCAA Tournament play and were both in their 13th year coaching Villanova (and each coach made their 11th Tournament appearance) which ended up winning the national championship.

Also, Roy Williams of North Carolina joined the late Dean Smith in losing his third championship game all time.  Only Mike Krzyzewski of Duke has lost more title games, four in all just in case you were wondering who holds that dubious record.  North Carolina has lost five title games, their first such instance since 1981 but only Duke and Kansas have lost more times in the championship round.

Villanova’s gap between championships is 31 years.  Only Kansas suffered a longer drought between titles, from 1952 to 1988 which was 36 years.

As for the final statistics, Villanova did outshoot North Carolina.  Villanova shot 28 for 48, good for 58.3 percent and were 8 of 14 from three point land.  North Carolina shot only 27 of 63 for a meager 42.9 percent from the field, but finished 11 of 17 from three and they also won the rebounding battle by a 36-23 margin.  Assists was also in Carolina blue by a good double digit margin–16 assists on 27 made baskets while Villanova converted only six times via the assist on 28 made field goals.

Phil Booth led the champion Wildcats with 20 points, while Kris Jenkins had 14.  What a story for Jenkins, who had to learn to shoot from his mother while being a late bloomer in not taking any outside shots until he was in eighth grade.  And he will be arm and arm with the late Lorenzo Charles of North Carolina State fame forever and ever and ever, winning the national championship at the buzzer.  Marcus Paige led everyone in scoring with 21, but the game will be remembered for the buzzer beater by Kris Jenkins.

As for the other tradition of “One Shining Moment”…

Ne-Yo was the performer this time around and it sounded really good (but if I was a betting man considering how she dominated the CBS cameras in the first two months performing at Super Bowl 50 and the Grammy Awards, I thought Lady Gaga would have been a nice choice as well).

The only thing that surprised me the most was in the very last verse, normally you would see the final shot–but instead the cameras focused on Marcus Paige’s game tying three and then the buzzer beater to close out the always sappy, corny song.

For the record, I only teared up twice.  Score one for me in holding up very well.

The UConn women go for four in a row tomorrow night, so I will have a brief blog on that game once it is becomes final with Syracuse in Indianapolis and then I will look forward to the final blog of this season of parity with the second annual ESPN Player of the Year Awards recap on Friday night.

In a season where the unexpected became the expected, the most unlikeliest of endings made CBS airings of Scorpion and NCIS: L.A. look like a new chapter of a book was starting.

But it is time to close this chapter and eventually look forward to late October.

See you all tomorrow night with a brief recap of the 2016 women’s title game.

P.S. Here is the call as seen from four different points of view.

Scott Graham of Westwood One during the Villanova Team Stream on TruTV, followed up by some smartphone people catching the dramatic buzzer beater both in Houston and at a viewing party inside The Pavilion on Villanova’s campus.

The final clip comes from a bar that CSN Philadelphia was stationed at:





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