During halftime of Monday’s epic national championship game between Villanova University (77) and the University of North Carolina (74), I briefly spoke to my mother. She commented on the game, saying, “Wow. What a game so far. If they keep this up, the second half is going to be a monster!” I nonchalantly agreed, but deep inside, I expected Roy Williams’ boys who were enjoying a slight lead of just five points to return after the break and put this thing to bed. Although I was rooting for Jay Wright to win his first NCAA championship title, my instincts said, “Nah, UNC is too good.” Villanova’s impressive wins against the Hawkeyes, Miami, and Kansas didn’t convince me. And then when the Wildcats stunned America by beating the breaks off a favored Oklahoma Sooners team by 44 points, I still doubted. My inability to fairly judge the current Jay Wright team was based on my inability to forget the past Jay Wright teams. The teams that were expected to go deep into the tournament but flamed out early. For me, underachieving was their new normal. The program’s underperforming reputation preceded them and blinded me from seeing a new and improved Wright team. A hungry, efficient, and talented team that would carry the Wildcats beyond the second round for the first time since 2010.
When the second half got underway, Villanova started to take control of the game. The lights out shooting that did Oklahoma in wasn’t all that iced the Tar Heels. Instead, the Wildcats relied heavily on defensive stops, while also benefiting from some questionable non-calls by the refs. North Carolina was up by seven, 41-34, a minute into the second half, but then the Wildcats did what they’d done the majority of the tourney, and to be honest, all season long. The team delivered blow after blow to go on a 33-16 run; good enough for a 10-point lead with 4:42 remaining.
My eyes stayed glued to the clock as it ticked away. I was suddenly hopeful Villanova would pull of a comeback and the upset but time wasn’t moving fast enough for me. However, the pace was perfect for North Carolina. As feared, there was more than enough time for UNC to stage a run of its own. The Tar Heels managed to pull within three points twice and eventually tie the game up with a double-clutch circus shot by Marcus Paige with 4.7 seconds remaining.
My nerves were bad. “No way this game doesn’t go to overtime,” I thought and wished. An extra five minutes of a national championship game was a dream scenario for fans, the NCAA, and TBS networks after the Final Four snoozefest we endured.
And then it happened, the best game-winning play in a national championship game. EVER. With the game tied at 74, Ryan Arcidiacono took the inbound pass from Kris Jenkins. Brought the ball upcourt to find a wide open Jenkins. With two quick stutter-steps, and the clock winding down, he released the ball and “ONIONS,” as TBS’ Bill Raftery said. Jenkins won the game with a magnificent buzzer-beater that finished off the Tar Heels in unbelievable dramatic fashion.
The Villanova Wildcats had won itself a championship for the first time since 1985. Jay Wright had finally earned himself a spot within that elusive winner’s circle for the first time in his 22-year head coaching career, 15 at Villanova. And the sweetest revenge of all for me, Villanova, one of the few surviving teams of the “real” Big East Conference sent a nice little message to the conference realignment committee that love it or hate it, the “Big East” will rep “foreva.” *Cardi B voice*
After the shot was ruled good, there was nothing left to do but celebrate by letting the internet get to work and bless us with memes for days. The anticipation of North Carolina Tar Heel Michael Jordan, who was in attendance, being hit with the crying MG meme treatment was the icing on the cake.
Here are three of my favorites:
A photo posted by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) April 5, 2016
And it turns out my mom was right after all. The second half was indeed a monster. It was filled with monstrous moments of madness that left a tale to be told for some years to come.