Villanova 77, UNC 74: Thoughts after the national title game

Villanova defeated North Carolina on Monday night in a national championship game for the ages, one that will be remembered for its dramatic ending: Marcus Paige’s 3-pointer that tied the game with 4.7 seconds remaining. And Kris Jenkins’ 3 to win it as time expired.

The Tar Heels’ 77-74 defeat immediately became a contender for the most heartbreaking loss in school history. The Wildcats, meanwhile, won in crazy fashion, with Jenkins’ 3 at the buzzer after they’d surrendered a 10-point lead in the final 5 ½ minutes.

Some postgame thoughts:

1. We just watched the best finish to a national championship game since … ?: The only one I can come up with is Lorenzo Charles in 1983. His dunk, off of an air ball, gave N.C. State a 54-52 victory against Houston. In terms of pure shock factor and drama, nothing beats Charles’ dunk – especially since the Wolfpack was such an overwhelming underdog against a Houston team that many believed couldn’t possibly lose. And so Villanova winning at the buzzer wasn’t exactly like N.C. State winning at the buzzer in 1983. Then again, the game on Monday night provided two memorable moments: Jenkins’ 3-pointer to win the game as time expired and, 4.7 seconds before that, Paige’s 3-pointer to tie the game. Paige’s 3 had UNC one defensive stop away from overtime. And then, seconds later, the game was over – and so, too, was the Tar Heels’ goal of winning a national title.

2. UNC lost this game before Jenkins’ 3: And who knows – if that shot doesn’t go in, maybe the Tar Heels win in overtime, anyway. Nonetheless, you could make the argument that UNC was fortunate to have a chance in the final seconds. Consider the following: The Tar Heels shot 43 percent, and less than 35 percent in the second half. They were outscored in the paint 32-26. They struggled to capitalize on second-chance opportunities and scored 11 of those off of 16 offensive rebounds. Villanova really limited the Tar Heels’ chances inside. Brice Johnson attempted 10 shots – not necessarily a particularly low number for him – but it seemed like he just didn’t have the same kind of chances he normally does. And it didn’t help UNC that Kennedy Meeks missed seven of his eight attempts from the field. The Tar Heels seemed to miss a lot of layups. Most of all, though, they labored to pass the ball down low. UNC compensated from the outside and made 11 of 17 3-point attempts.

3. Defense wins championships: UNC and Villanova entered Monday night as the nation’s two best offensive teams, according to kenpom.com. The difference, though, was Villanova’s defense, which ranked sixth nationally, according to kenpom.com, in adjusted defensive efficiency. In other words: The Wildcats give up the sixth-fewest points per possession in the country. UNC wasn’t too far behind and finished the season ranked 27th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. But Villanova was clearly the superior defensive team on Monday night, with an ability to limit touches inside and to deny passes.

4. What happened to UNC’s defense on the final play of the game?: With 4.7 seconds remaining, Jenkins inbounds to Ryan Arcidiacono, who quickly moves into the front court. Jenkins is trailing on the play. Nobody ever picks him up, even though players said afterward they were plenty aware of Jenkins’ proclivity for the 3. Arcidiacono passes to Jenkins. Jenkins makes the shot. And that’s how it ended. Here’s how Paige described UNC’s defensive lapse on the final play: “Ryan crossed half court, you kind of get into ball-watching mode, where you just stare at the ball and hope they miss. And I think that’s what happened. And when he gave it to Kris it was almost like a deer-in-the-headlights. Like, oh, somebody go challenge it. And it was too late.”

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