Recently, the National Championship game hasn’t made for great drama. The average margin of victory in the last decade leading into Monday night’s game was 8.4 points. There have been moments, occasionally, that have made fans stare in a state of shock at what they witnessed. Chalmers at the buzzer to send Kansas to overtime, and eventually the title, in 2008. Gordon Heyward was inches away from sending Butler into insanity with his half-court heave that fell harmlessly off the backboard and rim against Duke in 2010.
For most of recent history, the title game has been more defined by blowouts and bad disappointments. Frustrating basketball fans further were the pair of semi-final games over this past weekend, which saw a pair of double-digit victories. But Villanova and North Carolina bucked the trend in a most glorious way, with the Wildcats’ 77-74 victory over the Tar Heels at NRG Stadium in Houston. By now you have without a doubt seen Kris Jenkins’ shot glide to the bottom of the net, a shot that was as picture-perfect as any of us could imagine shooting into the hoop outside of our driveway. You’ve seen the non-nonchalant reaction of Jay Wright, the head coach of Villanova for the past 15 years, as he watched the shot that won him his first National Championship. At 81 years old, Rollie Massimino sat in his sky blue shirt and pinstriped suit, watching the team he led to the 1985 championship – regarded as one of the best basketball games ever played – as Villanova showed their old coach how the new boys roll.
Michael Jordan was in attendance, himself not a stranger to UNC championships. His game-winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 Championship Game gave Dean Smith his first college championship.
Legends wept, and boys cried.
Ryan Archidiacono, after passing the ball to Jenkins (and setting a very subtle yet important screen to give Jenkins time and space to get the shot), ran wildly behind the halfcourt line before curling back to celebrate with his teammates. Pandemonium erupted on the telecast. Jim Nantz nearly lost his stream of consciousness before Bill Raftery broke into his classic “Onions!” call. The referees tried to restore order to go to the monitor and confirm that the shot left the shooter’s hand before the clock hit zero.
The shot sent Marcus Paige’s heroics to the backburner. Moments earlier, the senior guard drilled a game-tying, floating three-pointer that surely would have been as widely remembered as Jenkins’ shot had the Tarheels won. The shot also erased Villanova’s own mistakes, which allowed UNC to nearly erase a 10 point deficit with five minutes remaining. Carolina cut the lead to just one point after Paige scrapped to collect and score his own rebound with 23 seconds remaining. Archidiacono committed two turnovers in those final minutes; Jenkins missed the front end of a one-and-one with the score at 69-64. Merely minutia now.
It will be debated whether or not Monday night’s game was greater than NC State’s upset over Phi Slamma Jamma, or UNLV falling to Duke in 1991. The game deserves the comparison. Wright called it “the best game that we’ve ever been a part of” during his post-game presser.
“We’re just trying to be legendary,” Jenkins told TBS reporter Craig Sager after the game. For a generation that grew up watching too many ho-hum finales, this is the ultimate moment in March, er… April Madness.