This year’s NCAA Tournament opened with as crazy of an opening weekend as you’ll ever see, before settling into a boring procession of blowouts, which abruptly ended tonight, when Villanova beat North Carolina in a genuinely bonkers National Championship game. Hell, Kris Jenkins’ game-winning buzzer-beater was so good that nobody will remember Marcus Paige’s not-game-winner, which was perhaps even more impressive (athletically speaking).
While UNC may have lost at the death because they forgot to track the inbounder, Nova outplayed them all game long. Jay Wright’s aggressive press-and-clog scheme took North Carolina out of their rhythm from the jump. Brice Johnson scarcely got his hands on the ball, and when he did, he was harried by Nova’s army of guards who kept him from getting to the spots he wanted (it’s to his credit that he finished with 14 points on 6-for-1o shooting and only a single turnover; he was invisible and frustrated for large stretches).
Chief among those guards was Nova sophomore Phil Booth, who came off the bench to score 20 points while only missing a single shot. Booth, Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, and Kris Jenkins (who is technically a forward, but shut up, he plays like a big guard on offense) scored all but 15 of Nova’s 77 points. Perhaps more importantly, they did their jobs on the other end of the court and forced North Carolina to build their offense from the outside in. Arcidiacono and Hart were particularly good at applying pressure, sending traps at Carolina’s big men, and forcing threes.
This Tar Heels team is the worst three-point shooting squad in North Carolina history. They’d only shot 31.9 percent on the year heading into the game, but they went 11-for-17 tonight, and they were at their best when Joel Berry and Marcus Paige were bombing away from the periphery. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks had more fouls (five) than points (four) and even when Jenkins left early with foul trouble, Daniel Ochefu held them at bay easily.
Nova began to send doubles at Paige and Berry in the second half, and it worked until Paige’s heroics gave North Carolina a chance to steal it late (he hit another huge one to bring UNC within three with 1:35 left). Just like in the Oklahoma blowout, Nova got stronger as the second half went along, and ripped off another sustained run down the back stretch of the game. Thankfully, North Carolina had the wherewithal to keep it competitive enough so Kris Jenkins could serves up that glorious finish. Even if Jay Wright didn’t outwardly appear to care, that was one of the best finishes to an NCAA Tournament ever.