It looked like overtime was looming, when Jay Wright pulled one out of his bag of tricks. With just over four seconds remaining, Kris Jenkins nailed the game winner. It was 77 to 74 in the Wildcats favor when the ball swooshed through the hoop to the beautiful sound of the final buzzer.
"I didn't have to say anything in the huddle. We have a name for it, that's what we're going to do. Just put everybody in their spots," Wright told reporters.
It will go down as one of the greatest moments in the program's history, as Wright got his first win over the University of North Carolina Tarheels in what can only be described as epic fashion. It was the first time that a team won the title on a buzzer-beater since NC State took the title in 1983.
"That was one of the great college basketball games we've ever been a part of," Wright said. "We all have great respect for North Carolina. We didn't just beat a great team, which this team is, but a great program, classy program.
"I just couldn't be prouder, couldn't be happier to see them enjoy this and fulfill their dreams. That's what it's all about for a coach, just to see their eyes, to see their satisfaction, their enjoyment. There's no better feeling in the world for a coach or a parent."
Villanova is now 2-1 all-time in the NCAA Tournament Final.
"I was dumb enough when we were down 10, I promised 'em, if they do what I said, we'd come back and we'd have a chance to win the game at the end," UNC coach Roy Williams said.
""When the shot went up, I saw Kris shoot it, his follow-through looked great. I pretty much knew it was going in. It was helpless. It was not a good feeling."
In stark contrast to the two semifinal games which were both big time blowouts, the title game was as close as it could be. The biggest lead of the game was a ten-point Nova lead late in the second half, but there was enough time for the Tarheels to chip away and tie things up again with just 4.7 seconds left on an improbable Marcus Paige three-pointer from Steph Curry range.
Everyone in Nova Nation surely felt their heart skip a beat at that moment. The game was surely heading to overtime -- except it didn't. Wright called a timeout and drew up the plan, the ball was supposed to be in Ryan Arcidiacono's hands to make the call, and he called on his teammate Kris Jenkins to pull the trigger.
"[Jenkins is] the last option because he's the inbounder," Wright explained. "If he can catch up with Arch and get ahead of him and get in his vision, that's your last look.
"But the first look is Arch, then Josh Hart is screening for Phil Booth. He's last look. For him to realize that the inbounder wasn't staying with him, he's one of the smartest basketball players we've ever had."
The 'Cats finished both halves strong. Despite letting Carolina take a lead late in the first half, to prevent the Tarheels from putting too much space between them, they executed a massive turnaround to cut the halftime deficit to five points. On UNC's last possession, Hart hustled across the court to block UNC's Justin Jackson, then Phil Booth hit a pull-up jumper right before the buzzer to keep the score close -- a nine point turnaround. It was UNC over Villanova, 39-34 at the break.
Booth's contribution to the game was immense. He led all Wildcats scorers with 20 points; he was perfect from three and from the free-throw line.
It wasn't Booth or Jenkins who won the 2016 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award -- it was senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono. He scored 16 points tonight, had two assists and a steal, and set up Jenkins' game-winner. He was 71% on two-pointers and 62% on threes throughout the tournament. CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz handed him his tie at the end of the game; a tradition for Nantz, who gives his tie at the end of the tournament to a senior who inspired him throughout.
"Jim Nantz came up to me, stopped me. I just thanked him for a great tournament, everything he did," Arcidiacono said. "He said at the end of the tournament I always go to the winning team and I pick a senior who has inspired him throughout the tournament. He gives him the tie at the end. He said it was me. I was in awe. I didn't know what to say. It was just a great honor from a really nice person."
It was the Wildcats's third time winning the MOP.
Jenkins finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting (2-of-4 from three) and two steals. Josh Hart also playerd a big game, grabbing a team-leading 8 rebounds, and scoring 12 points for the Wildcats. Daniel Ochefu also contributed 9 points, and 6 rebounds, but had 2 vital blocks and seemed to be the best big man on the court at times during the contest.
The Wildcats were out-rebounded 36-to-23 by UNC, and the Tarheels shot 64.7% from deep to Villanova's 57.1%. The 'Cats were much better from inside, shooting 58.3% overall to UNC's 42.9%. That field goal percentage was the highest by an NCAA Champion in the title game in the last 50 years.
Villanova is the first school without FBS football to win the title in 31 years -- the last being Villanova in 1985.
It was the second-highest attendance for a National Championship game, with 74,340 fans crammed into NRG Stadium.
Jay Wright gets his trophy. pic.twitter.com/97xr0WD69V— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 5, 2016