Hours removed from what is already heralded as one of the greatest national championship games in the history of college basketball, we still find ourselves at a loss for words. March Madness has seen buzzer-beaters before. Plenty of them. But rarely does one happen with the national championship on the line. And rarely do you get two amazing shots back to back.
Just when it appeared as if Marcus Paige was about to do his best Mario Chalmers impersonation and push the North Carolina Tar Heels into overtime, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono took the inbounds pass, drove the floor, and flipped the ball off to Kris Jenkins, who stepped into the shot and splashed a three at the buzzer that left even his coach speechless.
With this miraculous 77-74 victory, the Villanova Wildcats caused mass hysteria and forever secured a place in college basketball lore. And that’s a fact. However, for the record, Nova’s victory, while secured in one epic moment, was made possible thanks to a handful of reasons. See for yourself.
1. The unsung hero
The 2016 national title game will always be remembered for its buzzer-beating ending. And yet, it’s important to realize that the Wildcats would never have been in that position had they not seen a major contribution from an unlikely source: sophomore guard Phil Booth. Coming off the bench, he provided Villanova with 25 minutes of nearly perfect basketball.
Booth went six for seven from the field, including two for two from three-point range; he was a perfect six for six from the charity stripe, and he finished the game with 20 points, two rebounds, one steal, and one block. Booth’s play might not make the headlines, but let’s be clear, Nova doesn’t win without him.
2. Offensive efficiency
During the national championship game against North Carolina, Nova hit 58.3% of its shots, went eight for 14 from beyond the arc, knocked down 75.6% (13-17) of its free throws, and finished the contest with an offensive rating of 148.4. Granted, Jay Wright’s crew didn’t shoot the same 71.4% from the field like it did during the national semifinals against Oklahoma. However, as far as putting the ball in the bucket is concerned, this performance was hardly inefficient.
3. Didn’t quit on the defensive end
Aside from almost blowing a 10-point lead in the final five minutes of the game, Villanova’s defense was absolutely outstanding. With constant on-the-ball pressure, the Wildcats were able to keep the Tar Heels off balance, while forcing them to work harder at every position. In the end, UNC finished with 74 points and shot just 42.9% from the field; a far cry from the 82.8 points and 48.2% shooting that the Tar Heels averaged during the regular season. It’s true, defense does win championships.
4. Senior leadership
In an era associated with the “one-and-done,” it’s only fitting that Villanova reached the top of the college basketball mountain on the backs of the team’s maturity and senior leadership. Forward Daniel Ochefu was a beast on the blocks and made the Tar Heels bigs uncomfortable all night, while the 2016 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, Ryan Arcidiacono, controlled the pace, made unselfish decisions, and trusted his teammates with the game on the line. For Villanova and its seniors, this title was four years in the making. What a way to go out.
5. Refused to panic
When North Carolina’s Marcus Paige knocked down the game-tying three with just 4.7 seconds left on the clock, the Wildcats could have easily crumbled. But they didn’t. That’s not who they are. They shrugged it off, regrouped, and prepared to set up a play — and a final shot — that would go down as one of the greatest moments in college basketball history. Kris Jenkins may have been the one to knock down the triple, but he was hardly the only Wildcat to remain calm under pressure. And that’s why Villanova is the 2016 national champion.