Villanova tops UNC in a Championship finish for the ages

Emmanuel Rodriguez, Reporter

It was three weeks ago when we found out which 68 teams would duke it out in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. March Madness was maddening once again. It all started on March 15 when No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast trounced No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson, 96-65, in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, and it ended on April 4 when No. 2 Villanova and Kris Jenkins beat the buzzer to defeat No. 1 North Carolina in Houston, Texas.

It was also three weeks ago when we filled out our brackets. If I knew what I know now, I would do my whole bracket over. Of course, we all made some great picks, and we all made picks that broke our hearts. Me, personally, I’d like to thank the No. 12 Yale Bulldogs for beating the No. 5 Baylor Bears and making me look like an Ivy League student – at least until the No. 15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders beat the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans – my pick to win it all – in an upset for the ages.

That’s all in the past now.

Two teams were left from a pool of 68 on Monday night. They were the Wildcats from Villanova University and the Tar Heels from the University of North Carolina.

How’d they get here? The Wildcats finished the regular season 27-4 (16-2) and were the runners-up in the Big East tournament after losing to the Seton Hall Pirates in the final in Madison Square Garden. They went into the Big Dance ranked No. 6 nationally. They made their way to the Elite Eight with ease after convincingly beating No. 15 UNC-Wilmington, No. 7 Iowa and No. 3 Miami (FL). In the Elite Eight, they upended No. 1 Kansas and embarrassed No. 2 Oklahoma in the Final Four.

The Tar Heels finished the regular season 25-6 (14-4) and won the ACC Tournament after defeating the Virginia Cavaliers in Washington D.C. They entered the Big Dance ranked No. 3 in the nation. North Carolina easily made their way to the championship game, beating every team they faced by double digits. Those teams were No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast, No. 9 Providence, No. 5 Indiana, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 10 Syracuse.

The game tipped off at around 9:20 p.m. EDT. The first bucket of the game was made by Joel Berry II on a three after a minute and some change had gone by. That was followed up by a layup by Kris Jenkins, a man who would catapult himself into Villanova history later on.

At the midway point of the first half, Villanova’s big man – Daniel Ochefu – dunked and gave his team a slim, 19-14 advantage. The first half was tightly contested as the largest lead of the first half was only seven. UNC led Villanova with only 37 seconds left in the first half. Phil Booth cut that lead to five after making a final second shot to end the half, a shot that would foreshadow what was to come.

After a lengthy halftime, Brice Johnson opened up the scoring in the second half after 46 seconds went by to give the Tar Heels a seven-point lead. After another Johnson bucket, the Heels seemed stuck in mud as the Wildcats played tight defense. The Wildcats would soon go on a run and by the 10-minute mark of the second half, they had the lead at 51-46.

With 5:29 left in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, Booth hit a pair of free throws that would give Villanova the biggest lead of the game, 67-57. The light seemed to be dimming on UNC’s season, but in a span of 1:49, UNC went on a 7-0 run and cut the deficit to just three.

With 90 seconds left, Tar Heels coach, Roy Williams called a timeout as his team faced a three-point deficit. On the ensuing possession, Wildcats senior Ryan Arcidiacono turned the ball over, which led to a Johnson jumper on the other end to cut UNC’s deficit to just one. With 35 seconds left, Isaiah Hicks was called for a questionable foul on Booth. He sank both free throws to give Nova a 72-69 lead.

On the ensuing possession, Marcus Paige missed a layup, grabbed his own rebound and put it back to cut the deficit to just one once again. UNC tried a full court trap, but Villanova escaped and Johnson was forced to intentionally foul Josh Hart, who made both free throws. Wildcats coach Jay Wright called a timeout after Hart gave his team a 74-71 lead.

During the timeout, Williams drew a play up and the ball ended up in Paige’s hands as he threw up a prayer as he was unbalanced, but the southpaw somehow managed to rattle the ball in with 4.7 seconds left and tie it up. NRG Stadium went ballistic, and so did Chapel Hill.

Wright called another timeout. The Wildcats had to go the length of the court to win the game. Jenkins inbounded the ball to Arcidiacono (who would go on to be awarded Final Four Most Outstanding Player) and was immediately met by Berry II’s pressing defense. Arcidiacono would drive right and dish the ball off to the trailing Jenkins after crossing midcourt, Jenkins then shot a long three that hit nothing but net as time expired to win the National Championship. The campus of Villanova in Philadelphia went crazy.

It is the first National Championship Game to end on a buzzer beater since Lorenzo Charles’ dunk in 1983 that capped off the Cinderella story that was the Jim Valvano-led No. 6 North Carolina State Wolfpack who upset Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and mighty No. 1 Houston.

This is the first National Championship for Villanova basketball since 1985 when they had their own Cinderella run, winning it all as an eight seed, becoming the lowest seed to ever win the NCAA Tournament, a record that still stands today. Villanova upset the Patrick Ewing-led No. 1 Georgetown Hoyas that year in a game that is called one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament History. Villanova is also the first national champions to beat four AP Top-10 teams in a single NCAA Tournament since Villanova in the aforementioned magical 1985 tournament run. The Wildcats are now 2-1 all-time in the National Championship game.

As for the Tar Heels, this marks the fifth title game they’ve lost in program history. UNC has not won the NCAA Tournament since 2009 after beating freshman Draymond Green and the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans. The loss drops UNC to 5-5 all time in National Championship games.

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