LOUISVILLE — Nine-tenths of a second was all it took for the top-ranked Virginia men’s basketball team to put the finishing touches on its most improbable victory of the season.
That’s all the time De’Andre Hunter needed to catch an inbounds pass from Ty Jerome and release a three-pointer from the left side that banked in at the buzzer for a 67-66 win against Louisville before a stunned crowd at KFC Yum! Center.
The Cavaliers (27-2, 16-1), in fact, scored the final five points of the game over that fraction of a second, with the first two coming on 2 of 3 free throws by Jerome after he was fouled attempting a shot from beyond the arc.
Jerome missed the third free throw on purpose, but Virginia was called for a lane violation, giving the Cardinals the ball on the baseline. Louisville’s Deng Adel shuffled his feet trying to inbound, a violation because Jerome had missed his last free throw.
The ball went to Virginia, and Jerome found Hunter beyond the arc for the winner, allowing the Cavaliers to come all the way back from a 13-point deficit in the second half to become the first team to go 9-0 on the road in ACC history and extend its overall road winning streak to 10.
Duke had held the previous mark of 8-0 on the road in ACC competition in 2011-12.
“You’re down 13, and you’ve been in those spots. You never really think” the game is over, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. Louisville “played really well, and there’s part of me that I’m so thankful and excited and happy that our guys showed resiliency and finished, but I also feel some pain for [the Cardinals] and some compassion for them.”
Only moments before the first game-winning three-pointer of Hunter’s career at any level, the arena had reached a deafening decibel level in anticipation of Louisville (19-11, 9-8) staging an upset that surely would have fortified its spotty NCAA tournament résumé amid a season of off-the-court turmoil.
Two free throws by Ray Spalding with 14 seconds to play had put the Cardinals in front, 64-59, causing the announced senior-day crowd of 19,413 to erupt, but Jerome made a three-pointer six seconds later, leading to an immediate timeout by Bennett.
Louisville successfully inbounded with five seconds to play, and the Cavaliers fouled Darius Perry, who made both free throws for a 66-62 advantage. But Perry also committed the foul on Jerome’s three-pointer that began the crucial final sequence.
“I knew if I got it I was going to shoot it no matter what,” Hunter said. “I knew it was hitting the backboard. I didn’t know it was going in.”
Hunter finished with seven points, playing on a sore ankle tweaked in practice. The guard-forward was wearing a walking boot on his right leg after the game to protect the same ankle he hurt in a 65-63 win against Duke on Jan. 27.
Jerome added 21 points, 18 of which came in the second half. The sophomore had sat out much of the first half after picking up his second personal foul, and he added his third shortly after intermission but persevered nonetheless.
Adel had a team-high 18 points for the Cardinals, who have lost seven in a row in the series, including 74-64, in Charlottesville on Jan. 31.
“Look, the game doesn’t come down to one play,” Louisville first-year Coach Dave Padgett said. “It never does. [Hunter’s shot] was obviously a big play, but it wasn’t the play that cost us the game.
“It’s a prayer from 30 feet. The stars weren’t aligned for us tonight.”
The dramatic final seconds not only prevented Louisville from closing out its first signature victory, but it also added more discontent to a season filled with plenty of distractions, little of it positive.
Most recently, the NCAA mandated Louisville must vacate its 2013 national championship in the wake of sex scandal that ultimately led to the dismissal before the season of former coach Rick Pitino, who recently has defended the school and those players responsible for winning the school’s second national championship.
The NCAA’s ruling marks the first time a Division I program has been stripped of a men’s basketball national championship.
University president Greg Postel has acknowledged the scandal was unacceptable but also indicated the school’s cooperation with the NCAA should have been taken more into account.
Louisville announced Tuesday that an NCAA appeals panel had upheld sanctions regarding the men’s basketball program, the fallout of which also includes the Cardinals having to vacate not just the NCAA title but also 122 other wins and pay back roughly $600,000 in ACC revenue from the 2012 through ’15 NCAA tournaments.
“Coaches always take the blame for the loss,” Padgett said. “I should have done a couple things differently there [in the final seconds]. That’s on me. That’s not on the players. It never, ever will be on the players. It’s on me as the head coach.”