Accomplishing something that not even the mighty Ralph Sampson could in the mid-80s, the University of Virginia won the NCAA men’s basketball championship Monday night with an 85-77 overtime win over Texas Tech in Minneapolis. It was the first NCAA title for the Cavaliers.
De’Andre Hunter hit a 3-pointer with 2:10 left to give the Cavs a 75-73 lead, and the Red Raiders followed with a turnover. Ty Jerome then slashed for a missed layup, was fouled, and hit two free throws to cap a 7-0 run.
Texas Tech missed, fouled Kyle Guy with 31 seconds left, and he sank both offerings for a 79-73 bulge with 31 seconds left. Game.
And so it was that Virginia did what no other team before it had. Hunter led Virginia with 27 points, Guy added 24 and Jerome was good for 16. Brandone Francis came off the bench to lead the Red Raiders with 17. Virginia finished 35-3; Texas Tech, 31-7.
The Cavaliers struck early in the second half, beginning with a 3-pointer from Guy to set the tone and provide a 35-29 lead. They went on to lead by as many as 10 as the Red Raiders were forced to take shots they might not normally have.
But this was for it all, and they couldn’t risk falling into a deeper hole. Virginia, however, was up to the task, as was its vaunted pack line defense. Even so, Texas Tech kept on keeping on, narrowing its deficit again and again.
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With 3:28 left, U.Va.’s lead vanished and the game stood at 59-59 following an 8-0 Red Raiders run. Virginia went on to boost its lead back to four points until Davide Moretti’s trey pulled Tech to 65-64 with just more than a minute left.
Jarrett Culver’s short lay-in after a held ball finally gave Tech the lead, 66-65, after which Jerome missed a floater. Tech hit two free throws but Hunter followed with a cold-hearted 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining to tie matters at 68. The Red Raiders missed a would-be winning shot with a second left, setting up overtime.
Virginia led by three at halftime but not before a 10-point Cavaliers lead went poof midway through the first half as the Red Raiders finally began to sink shots. A 3-pointer from Virginia’s Ty Jerome just before the buzzer pushed the ACC representative ahead.
Defense was a key, as expected. Texas Tech senior forward Tariq Owens, a force in the middle, played despite having rolled his right ankle in the semifinal. He was held to just three points, however.
Still, offense broke out at all the right times. And never mind that the participants weren’t known for flying high. As venerable columnist David Teel of the Daily Press pointed out:
“Sure, Duke-Kentucky or another clash of storied programs, would have had broader appeal. But elite college basketball today extends far beyond traditional borders, and never was it more evident than Monday night when Virginia authored the most stirring moment in the commonwealth’s sports annals and a college basketball epic for the ages.”
If you watched the historic win, well, there was likely a good chunk of University of Virginia basketball fans who, having watched their Wahoos somehow survive a couple of near-death experiences during March Madness, wouldn’t have dared watch Monday night’s championship game anywhere except where they witnessed said Houdini acts. Superstitions die hard, as can seasons.
Even so, there were plenty of options out there for the tournament finale shown on CBS that pitted the Red Raiders of Texas Tech against the Cavaliers in Minneapolis. Heck, if you were willing to take a relatively short drive to Charlottesville, Virginia’s home lair—John Paul Jones Arena—swung open its doors at 8 p.m. for a watch party, with free admission.
Wherever you went, all indications were that you’d be watching a relatively low-scoring affair, what with both teams having long ago hitched their fortunes to suffocating defense. Virginia was favored by a point, and as Forbes points out, “The total has been bet down from the opener of 119 and the current over/under of 118 is the lowest in NCAA championship game history.”
It was the first men’s basketball NCAA championship game for either school. Not since Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in 1979 had two newbies met in the final.
Seeded No. 1 in the South Region, Virginia beat Purdue 80-75 in overtime in punching its Final Four ticket, after which it somehow escaped Auburn 63-62 in reaching the final.
Victory will put to rest last year’s early exit from March Madness when the University of Maryland-Baltimore County made history by squashing the top-ranked Cavaliers in a major upset 74-54 in the opening round. To say the UMBC Retrievers were underdogs would be an understatement; no Number-16 seed had ever upset a team in the top slot in an NCAA tournament.
Texas Tech, seeded No. 3 in the West Region, took down top-seeded Gonzaga 75-69 to make the Final Four and then withstood Michigan State 61-51 in the other semifinal Saturday.