A year after watching from the sideline while his team suffered the most humiliating defeat in college basketball history, De'Andre Hunter threw the shot that kept Virginia's hopes alive in the 2019 championship.
Three points less with 12 seconds remaining in the regulation of Monday night's national championship game, Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome drove to the edge, attracting the Texas Tech defense around him. When three Red Raiders collapsed the paint to dispute a tray, Jerome turned and threw the ball into the corner, where Hunter picked it up, got up and fired. It was the biggest shot of his career, good from the moment he left his hand. It was also the opportunity Virginia fans raved over generations to discuss how the school won its first national basketball title.
In overtime, Hunter sank another 3 from almost the same spot, which gave Virginia a 75-73 lead he would not give up. When the final horn sounded, their advantage increased to 85-77, and the Hoos invaded the court as champions. The margin of victory of eight points was the largest in Virginia since the first weekend. It was cause for equal celebration and relief, since the legacy of the program now, finally, fortunately, has been rewritten.
This NCAA tournament was never easy for Virginia. That was totally expected, given the recent history of the program. In 10 seasons with head coach Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers have at least tied the regular season ACC title four times and entered the NCAA tournament as a no. 1 or not. 2 seeds five times. However, before 2018-19, they had never advanced beyond the Elite Eight. In 2014 they were defeated by the fourth state of Michigan, 61-59; in 2015 they were again annoyed by the Spartans, 60-54; in 2016, they fell to Syracuse, tenth seed, 68-62; And last season they became the first no. 1 sown in the history of college basketball to lose his game of the first round against an opponent 16 seeded. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County not only defeated the Cavaliers, but demolished them, 74-54, apparently invalidating Bennett's entire system in the process.
True to form, the Hoos lost to 14 in the first half of their first-round game against Gardner-Webb a few weeks ago. They entered the 36-30 break, and began to talk about how Virginia might be destined to repeat her biggest failure. But then Hunter found his shot, and the Cavs rolled for 15. They won more comfortably against Oklahoma (63-51) in the second round, but still looked like a ghost of the team that had gone 29-3 to enter the tournament. And then they discovered how to take their reputation for suffocation and turn it around completely.
The Hoos were tied with the 12th favorite of Oregon, being just under six minutes in their confrontation with Sweet 16, and almost left the game in the last minutes. However, Hunter scored four points in the last 30 seconds, and Virginia won 53-49. Then it took miracles to get past Purdue and Auburn in Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively. I've seen the clip below about 700 times. I still can not believe it happened.
Twice in the last two weeks, Virginia went to the free throw line with just over a second remaining and her season is at stake. Twice in the last two weeks, he survived. On Monday, despite having a 59-51 lead with less than six minutes to go, the Cavs were victorious again. Part of the credit is due to a call out of bounds canceled at a critical moment; Most of it is because Virginia finally plays as the best team in the sport, not only during the regular season, but also when it matters most.
Hunter, Jerome and Kyle Guy combined for 67 points against Texas Tech, including 11 of the 17 overtime records for Virginia. Each time the Hoos faced a deficit, one of the three was there with a dagger, a key pbad to keep the team at an attack distance, or some foul shots with clear eyes, to bet on the house. And while Tech found the sporadic success of Jarrett Culver, the potential guards of the NBA lottery, the guards Matt Mooney and Davide Moretti, and impact banking players Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards, their production was not enough to get away from the Hoos. It was simply Virginia's time.
Monday night's game was the national title match with the highest score since Michigan State overthrew Florida in 2000. That's surprising, since Texas Tech entered the contest not only with the country's best defense , but possibly the best in the history of college basketball. Since 2002, the first season for which KenPom data is available, no team has ranked higher in defensive efficiency adjusted than these Red Raiders. Virginia, with its infamous slow system, played almost as effectively on that end of the floor, as it had for years. Except that the most talented team that Bennett has trained could do more than defend. Behind Guy, Jerome and Hunter, the Hoos put together the second best offensive season in college basketball, according to KenPom, and presented shooters in almost every position.
Virginia secured her redemption in the same way she failed earlier: by the skin of her teeth. But a year after becoming a line of punch, Tony Bennett and Co. outnumbered their demons to deliver the final blow.