And so it came to pass that there was an actual good basketball game played inside NRG Stadium. A game with two really good basketball teams that ran actual plays on offense and played decent defense. Teams that ran the court with confidence and made baskets and blocked shots.
And so it came to pass that this game was fun and the building hopped with excitement as 74,340 fans rose from their feet and shouted and screamed and yelled from the top of their lungs without the encouragement of the scoreboard or video gimmicks. Just milliseconds before the buzzer sounded and with the score tied at 74-74, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins let the ball fly from his hands and into the hoop, giving the Wildcats the 77-74 win over North Carolina in perhaps the most incredible game in NCAA Tournament history.
It was exciting, ladies and gentlemen. It was electric. Villanova versus North Carolina was everything a championship basketball game should be. This wasn’t the basketball played in past games in NRG Stadium. This wasn’t even like most of the recent NCAA title games. This was excellence.
Villanova came from a five-point halftime deficit to lead the game 67-57 with 5:29 left in the game. It appeared at that time that North Carolina, which had gone cold from the field, was just about done, but Roy Williams said he told his team that if they’d just do what he told them, they could still win this game. And when Marcus Paige hit a miraculous, death-defying three-pointer from really long range with five seconds left on the clock to tie it at 74-74, it looked like Roy Williams was right.
“I promised ’em,” Williams said. “When we were down ten in the huddle, I promised 'em if they did what I told them to do, that we'd have a chance to win the game at the end of the game. I just didn't go guard Kris (Jenkins). But they believed in me. I like that. I just wish I could have done a little before.”
Villanova, which had played about as perfect a game as could possibly be played, shooting 58.3% from the field, forcing bad shots by North Carolina, had one slice of perfection remaining. Head coach Jay Wright drew up a play during the timeout that got the ball into Jenkins’ hands, one of his team’s best three-point shooters who nailed the open jumper at the buzzer.
“(It’s) something we work on every day at practice,” Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu said. "Slim (Kris) Jenkins stepped up and hit the shot!”
Teammate Ryan Arcidiacono agreed: “Unbelievable! Unbelievable! Simply that. We’ve run that play every single day in practice, and we executed.”
And Jenkins had no doubt that the shot was going to go in.
“I think every shot is going in,” he said. “So every shot I shot today I thought was going, so that was no different.”
It’s one of those games that will go down in NCAA history as one of the greatest title games ever.
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And as magnificent as this game was — and it was truly magnificent — the best thing surely has to be this: Two teams actually figured out how to play basketball inside NRG Stadium, something that no one thought was possible. Villanova hit more than 70 percent of its shots in Saturday’s dismantling of Oklahoma, then made 58.3 percent against North Carolina last night. But while North Carolina only shot 42.9 percent on the night, the Tar Heels still hit 11 of 17 three-point shots to keep themselves in the game. And because teams were able to shoot the ball, the pace of the game was improved, the atmosphere was electric and the night was incredible.
It was what a championship basketball game was supposed to be. And it took place in Houston, inside of a building where that was thought to be impossible.
So everybody breathe. Relax. Reflect on the perfection of the ending, on the avalanche of emotions that were released. It really happened, and it was beautiful.
And thus it came to pass that Jenkins executed the play as called, as practiced, and won the game on a three-point shot just before the buzzer setting off a sea of bedlam and ecstasy and pain and heartbreak. And if there’s any justice in the world, that Kris Jenkins shot will now forever replace that shot from North Carolina State to upset the University of Houston in 1983 as the go-to highlight of just what the NCAA Tournament is supposed to be.