MINNEAPOLIS — Virginia, a fine tortoise of a program with a warmish 114-year history, a knack for deliberative basketball and an unthinkable splat of 13 months ago, spent Monday night climbing the last jagged rungs to a pinnacle. When finally it made the closing, agonizing steps in overtime, reached the top and looked around, it knew a feeling long associated only with others such as Duke or North Carolina, the neighboring hares that always left it among the overshadowed.
It had become the first first-time men’s college basketball national champion in 13 years, and could see back across the landscape of one hell of a narrative. It could see Texas Tech, the finalist Virginia outlasted by 85-77 in that overtime, a team so good it had hit the NCAA tournament like some great wind coming off the high plains of Lubbock, felling Michigan State, Gonzaga, Michigan and Buffalo.
Gaze back from up high, and Virginia could see the carnival of plays that helped it wriggle from doom in life-shortening games against Purdue, Auburn and Texas Tech. Squint harder, and it could see clear back to March 2018, when Virginia became the first No. 1 seed in tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed, a bewildering 74-54 thud against Maryland Baltimore County, the nadir of a five years of tortured Marches. Yet right in front, it could see the droves in orange and blue in U.S. Bank Stadium, reveling as noise cascaded from fans who seldom dared dream of such a thing.
“To be able to hug each other with confetti going everywhere and say we did it, it’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in basketball,” said Kyle Guy, who scored 24 points and was named most outstanding player of the Final Four.
“Forget last year, this is everything you dream of since you’re a little kid,” said Ty Jerome, who rang up 16 points with eight assists, the most monumental one to De’Andre Hunter with 12.9 seconds left in regulation.
“Joy is in the competition,” said Hunter, who scored 27 biggest-time points after being saddled with 1-for-8 shooting and five points at halftime.
“You have a scar, and it reminds you of that [March 2018], but it’s a memory,” said 10th-year Coach Tony Bennett, the architect of the unprecedented. “Does it go away completely? No, I wish it wouldn’t have happened in some ways. Now I say, ‘Well, it bought us a ticket here. So be it.’ . . . Is the pain gone? I still feel a little ‘uhh’ because I remember that feeling, but I think we’re okay.”
In the end, they can see back through a closing Monday night of substantial caliber. It had Virginia (35-3) shooting 45.8 percent both overall and from three-point suburbia (11 for 24), lofty given the opponent and its otherworldly defense, even with frequent flier and shot-blocker Tariq Owens somewhat limited by an injury suffered Saturday. It had Texas Tech (31-7) splashing down three-point shots to help alleviate deficits that reached 10 points in each half. It had its foremost player, Jarrett Culver, having to wring 15 points from 5-for-22 shooting because of Hunter’s thick defense against him.
Finally, after Culver got through on a gorgeous drive for a layup and a 66-65 lead with 35 seconds left, and Norense Odiase made two free throws 13 seconds later, this game had its tiptop play. It had a play for which third-year Texas Tech Coach Chris Beard said, “Give Virginia credit. If they would have come down and run like kind of a more deliberate possession like they normally do, we would have fouled up top.”
Instead, Jerome stormed up the left side of the court. Instead, Jerome fed along the baseline to Hunter in the corner. Instead, Hunter stood over there for what seemed like a minute but wasn’t really, and when the shot he plotted carefully rained down with 12.9 seconds left, the game stood at 68-68.
Then, as Virginia gazes from its perch, it can look at an overtime in which it made all 12 of its free throws, in which Hunter splashed another three-point shot with 2:09 left to provide a 75-73 lead, in which finally, with seven seconds left, the Cavaliers’ Braxton Key stood at the free throw line, and the trio who carried so much of the heaviness with aplomb — Guy, Hunter and Jerome — stood together back behind the half-court line, arms interlocked.
They had started the night with a reminder of how they started the tournament. “The one thing I said to them before in the locker room,” Bennett said, “I said, ‘You guys faced pressure that no team in the history of the game has faced, well, really all year, but being down 14 against [No. 16 seed] Gardner-Webb, and you did not panic in that moment, and you fought, and you found a way out.”
Now they had found a way out of all of it, and left the path strewn with March Madness wonders, from Mamadi Diakite’s tip-out, Kihei Clark’s 40-foot pass and Diakite’s shot against Purdue, to Guy’s three free throws with six-tenths of a second left against Auburn, to Jerome finding Hunter in the corner against Texas Tech.
That’s how a team as deeply impressive as Texas Tech came to have its coach on an interview dais with emotion flooding his words before he continued. Beard said of Hunter, “They iso’d him, and he hit just a lot of tough shots.” He said of Virginia’s defense, “Very, very difficult to score against.” He said of Virginia, “So much poise.”
And finally he got out the words to say of his players, “Just told them I loved them. You know, our relationship is just getting started. I’ll be at those guys’ weddings one day and hopefully when their kids get born, and do everything I can to talk them out of getting into coaching so they don’t ever feel like this.”
That would be the unique feeling that stems from having the lead just 15 measly seconds to the finish, then not winning. Yet somehow, along Virginia’s mind-boggling story arc, Beard had just become the third such coach in a row.
— Chuck Culpepper
Virginia, one year after a historic first-round loss, wins its first NCAA men’s basketball title with a 85-77 win over Texas Tech
After blowing a 10-point second-half lead, the Cavaliers defeated the Red Raiders in overtime to complete their remarkable turnaround from a year ago, when they became the first men’s team to lose to a No. 16 seed as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Tony Bennett, who was hired by Virginia in 2009 and coached the team in last year’s upset loss to Maryland Baltimore County, won his first national title as well.
DeAndre Hunter shook off an ineffective first half to lead Virginia with 27 points, and Kyle Guy, the hero of the Cavs’ semifinal win over Auburn, had 24. For the game, Virginia shot 45.8 percent (27-59) against a Texas Tech defense that led the nation in many metrics and stifled opponents throughout the tournament. The Red Raiders were led in scoring by reserve guard Brandone Francis’s 17 points, as he combined with fellow bench player Kyler Edwards for 29 of Texas Tech’s 77 points. The Red Raiders’ season-long leading scorers, Jarrett Culver, Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney, combined for 40 points on 14-of-41 shooting.
Cavs steady at the line
Virginia was pulling away from Texas Tech at the free throw line, with three player combining for six straight points to give the Cavs an 81-73 lead with 23 seconds left. However, Kyler Edwards hit a layup with 17 seconds left to give the Red Raiders some hope of a desperate comeback, and the team took its final timeout.
Virginia with slim lead
Virginia answered Texas Tech’s 5-0 run in overtime with one of its own, capped by De’Andre Hunter’s three-pointer. The teams then traded empty trips before the ball went out of bounds with 1:06 left, and the Cavs were given a critical possession after a video review, with officials determining that Tech’s Davide Moretti touched the ball last, if barely.
This is the first NCAA tournament championship game to go to overtime since Kansas topped Memphis in 2008. Virginia drew first blood in the extra session, taking a two-point lead on a pair of De’Andre Hunter free throws, but Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney, who was largely ineffective in regulation, hit a three-pointer and jump shot to give his team a 73-70 lead.
We’re going to overtime!
After a Ty Jerome miss 22 seconds left, Texas Tech’s Norense Odiase was fouled when he grabbed the rebound. The 6-8 senior calmly made both free throws to give his team a three-point lead, but Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter hit a three-pointer with 13 seconds left. Hunter then rebounded a Jarrett Culver miss, but he lost control of the ball, which went out of bounds with 1 second left.
Culver’s shot with one second left was partially blocked by Virginia’s Braxton Key, keeping the score tied at 68-68. Overtime here we come.
Texas Tech takes first lead in second half
Jarrett Culver gave Texas Tech its first lead of the second half, at 66-65 with 0:35 left to play, with a layup. He is up to 15 points, albeit on 5-of-17 shooting.
One-point game, just over a minute to go
Oddsmakers gave the game an over/under of 120, which many thought was entirely too high for a matchup of suffocating defenses. But we’re well over that with just over a minute to go, as Virginia leads Texas Tech, 65-64. The teams have combined for some nifty passes and shot-making, particularly in a second half that hasn’t lacked for scoring, at least relative to expectations.
Virginia going cold late . . . again
Norense Odiase caught a short pass and was fouled on a layup with 3:28 left, giving him a chance to tie the game at 59 apiece as the game went to a timeout. In an echo of its semifinal win over Auburn, Virginia has let a 10-point, second-half lead slip away, with Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney shaking off a quiet game by hitting a contested three-point shot.
Odiase made the free throw for a 59-59 score and what shaped up as a dramatic finish.
That completed an 8-0 Red Raiders run, with the Cavs missing three shots and committing two turnovers. Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite ended the dry spell by making two free throws with 2:54 left, giving his team a two-point lead again, but Jarrett Culver used his own trip to the line to tie the game at 61-61.
Raiders not going away
Kyler Edwards made a jump shot with 5:32 left to cut Virginia’s lead to 59-53, and he became the fourth Texas Tech player to reach double digits in scoring. The Cavaliers have led throughout the second half, by as many as 10 points, with DeAndre Hunter improving upon a disappointing first-half showing.
Owens fouls out
Tariq Owens fouled out with 5:46 left, after coming close to tying up Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter on a jump ball. Instead, Hunter was able to muscle his way up for a layup after grabbing an offensive rebound under the Texas Tech basket, but he missed the ensuing free throw.
Time running out for Texas Tech
A Jarrett Culver basket was waved off on a charge call with just over eight minutes to play, negating for the moment Texas Tech’s bid to cut Virginia’s lead to six. Instead, the Cavs held a 55-47 edge, as they were shooting 46.5 percent from the field (20-43). That was coming against the Red Raiders’ No. 1-ranked field goal defense, which had held opponents to 36.8 percent shooting coming into the game.
Hunter heating up
Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter sandwiched two three-pointers around a Ty Jerome jumper to help their team regain a nine-point lead at 50-41 with 11:24 to play. Over half of Texas Tech’s points have been scored by two bench players, Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards, who have gone a combined 7-of-10 from the field for 21 points. Hunter and teammate Kyle Guy lead all scorers with 15 points each.
Virginia opens up lead
Texas tech’s Jarrett Culver finally hit his first field goal, after an 0-for-8 start, on a layup with 15:28 to go in the game. He quickly followed it up with another layup, giving the Red Raiders hope that their top player was heating up just in time to lead a comeback. Holding a three-point lead at halftime, Virginia came out of the locker room with a 6-0 run to gain a 40-31 advantage, but Culver has helped cut the margin to 42-35 with 14:15 left. Still struggling to get untracked has been Matt Mooney, Texas Tech’s savior in its semifinal win over Michigan State, who has two points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Owens in foul trouble to start second half
Tariq Owens picked up his second and third fouls less than two minutes into the second half, and he was sent to the bench. The 6-10 senior came out of halftime looking stiff on his injured ankle, and he made an errant pass before committing the foul.
HALF: Virginia 32, Texas Tech 29
Ty Jerome hit a three-point shot just before the buzzer sounded to give Virginia the lead over Texas Tech at the half. The Cavs bounced back from a 25-21 deficit, after the Red Raiders recovered from starting the game down 17-7. Texas Tech got off to an extremely slow start of offense, including going 0 for 8 from the field, but the team caught fire, at least in relative terms, by scoring 14 points in a three-minute span. Virginia’s Kyle Guy led all scorers with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, with teammate Ty Jerome contributing eight points. For Texas Tech, Davide Moretti and Brandone Francis led the way with eight points each, but the team’s top player, Jarrett Culver, went 0 for 6 form the field and had just three points. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter also struggled, scoring five points on 1 of 8 shooting.
No baskets for Culver, Hunter
While the game’s pace of scoring has increased, that hasn’t been the case for Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter. The game’s most high-profile players have each gone 0 for 5 from the field while making three free throws. The Red Raiders have two bench players, Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards, largely to thank for the 25-24 lead the team has taken with four minutes to go in the first half, as they have combined for 11 points. Kyle Guy leads the Cavs with seven points.
Raiders back on top
The game has opened up to a considerable degree, much to the relief of viewers fearful that the two defense-minded teams would slog to a 39-38 final score. That might still happen, but the past few minutes of play have featured a number of made shots and speedier possessions, with the result a fairly palatable 25-21 lead for Texas Tech with over four minutes left in the first half.
We’ve got a game
Long range shots have started to fall for Texas Tech, which has made three three-point shots in as many possessions to trim a 17-7 Virginia lead to 19-16 with eight minutes left in the first half. The Red Raiders’ top reserve player, senior guard Brandone Francis, had two of those makes, and the other was provided by another bench player, Kyler Edwards.
Raiders get first field goal
Davide Moretti finally hit Texas Tech’s first field goal of the game, a three-pointer after seven minutes of game play that cut Virginia’s lead to 9-6. However, Kyle Guy quickly followed that with his own three to push the Cavs’ margin back up to 12-6. Guy, the late-game hero of his team’s remarkable comeback win over Auburn in a national semifinal game Saturday, has started this game 2 for 2 from the field for five points, plus two rebounds and a steal.
Guy finding a rhythm
Virginia went on a 7-0 run to take a 9-3 lead over Texas Tech, which called a timeout to stop the bleeding with just under 13 minutes left in the first half. The run was capped by a Braxton Key dunk which came on a runout following a missed dunk by the Red Raiders’ Jarrett Culver. Kyle Guy added a jump shot and Ty Jerome hit a three-pointer for Virginia, while Texas Tech has gone 0 for 8 from the field.
Defense rules early
To no one’s surprise, a game between arguably the two best defensive college teams in the country got off to a low-scoring start, with the score 3-2 in Texas Tech’s favor with just over four minutes gone by. The Red Raiders and the Cavaliers combined to go 1 for 9 from the field, with all of Tech’s points coming on free throws while Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite made the only jump shot. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, widely thought to the key to his team’s chances of winning, missed a relatively easy-looking layup opportunity after blowing by a defender and getting to the rim on the Cavs’ first possession. Tech star Jarrett Culver had all three of his team’s points in the early going.
More than a few fans online decided that Texas Tech was a lock to win after thinking they heard the Red Raiders’ Matt Mooney being introduced as from “Wakanda,” the fictional locale featured in the hit movie “Black Panther.” Mooney is actually from Wauconda, Illinois, a town that has taken note of how similar it sounds to Wakanda.
Owens will play but isn’t ‘100 percent’
CBS’s Tracy Wolfson reported before the game that while Texas Tech center Tariq Owens was “nowhere near 100 percent,” he would play against Virginia on an ankle he injured in the semifinal win over Michigan State. Wolfson added that Owens would be wearing shoes of two different sizes and for the first time all season had switched to a high-top model for more ankle support.
“Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t play tonight,” Red Raiders Coach Chris Bear said of Owens, whom he said had a high ankle sprain. “But this is the last Monday in college basketball, so he’s going to try.”
A graduate transfer from St. John’s, Owens has been an emotional leader for the Red Raiders, as well as a shot-blocking force who can step out for his own jumpers. It remains to be seen how much playing time the 6-10 player from Odenton, Md., gets against the Cavaliers, but his return to the court could provide an early lift.
For Texas Tech, guards Davide Moretti, Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney, along with big men Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase, have started 35 of 37 games as a group. They will again tonight in the championship game.
How they got here
Virginia (34-3) started the season with 16 straight wins before the first of two losses against Duke. Its only other loss came to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals. The Cavaliers opened the NCAA tournament with double-digit wins over No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb and No. 9 seed Oklahoma. Then came three close calls: First a 53-49 win over 12th-seeded Oregon in a game that was tied with four minutes to play. Then an 80-75 overtime win over No. 3 seed Purdue, highlighted by Diakite’s game-tying shot in the final moments of regulation. And finally Saturday’s 63-62 win over Auburn, with the winning margin coming on three Kyle Guy free throws with less than a second remaining. That was Virginia’s 10th win against a ranked team this season, a school record.
The Red Raiders (31-6) won 15 of their first 16 games and finished atop the Big 12 standings. They lost to West Virginia in the conference tournament title game, but have looked dominant since. Texas Tech cruised through its NCAA tournament schedule — a 72-57 win over No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky, a 78-58 triumph over No. 6 seed Buffalo and a 63-44 victory over No. 2 seed Michigan — before toppling No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the West Region final to reach its first Final Four in school history. The Red Raiders used a big run early in Saturday night’s second half to pull away from East Region winner Michigan State in a 61-51 win.
— Des Bieler
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