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Super ‘Nova: Buzzer-beater wins national championship, first since ’85

Kris Jenkins hit the shot of his life after a nail-biter of a game, capping what was easily the best year in the school’s history.

Villanova had a ten-point lead with just over five minutes to go in the national title game, but the North Carolina Tar Heels rammed their way back into the game, tying things up with a miraculous, circus three-point heave by Marcus Paige with just over four seconds to go. That’s when Ryan Arcidiacono shuffled up the floor and handed the ball off to sharpshooter Kris Jenkins. The rest is Villanova history. NCAA Tournament history. Basketball history.

The Villanova Wildcats topped Carolina 77-74 in one of the greatest college basketball games, period.

“I was just shocked. They did it,” Jay Wright told Jim Nantz during the trophy presentation in Houston. “Kris Jenkins lives for that moment.”

Nantz called Jenkins a cult hero, hitting the game-winning shot to cap a national title in as dramatic a fashion imaginable. But the ball was in Arcidiacono’s hands first, and he opted to make the pass, not take the shot himself.

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“That’s just something every kid dreams about,” the tournament Most Outstanding Player told Nantz. “Every kid dreams about that shot. I wanted that shot, but I just had confidence in my teammates and Kris was able to knock down the shot.”

The game caps the best season in school history with an incredible 35-5 record. It also caps one of the most impressive three-year runs in history, certainly out on the Main Line.

Over the last three seasons, Villanova had 13 losses and 97 wins. That’s good.

No, that’s better than good. That’s great. That’s all-time great. Rollie never won 30 games. Hell, he never won more than 25 games—the 1985 title team went 25-10—and, yeah, they played fewer games back then, but Villanova’s best winning percentage under Massimino was .750, going 24-8 in both 1981-82 and 1982-83.

Steve Lappas had a three-year run in the late 1990s where Nova went 75-25, but that’s not even close to the run this Villanova team was on the last three years. Led by Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, both seniors, with juniors Josh Hart and Jenkins carrying much of the load as well, this team is as good as any, ever. (Okay, sure, Jay Wright’s team isn’t quite the UCLA Bruins that went 205-4 from 1966-73, but in terms of college basketball around these parts, this Villanova run is tops.)

We’d have to go back to the late ’60s and early ’70s Villanova teams to find three seasons with single-digit losses like Wright’s team has accomplished. Jack Kraft led Villanova to the national final in 1971, part of a three-year run that saw his teams go a combined 70-19. And even that run—a .786 win percentage—wasn’t as good as this.

To find a Villanova run this good, we have to go back to the middle of the Alex Severence era, as Nova went 73-15 from 1948 through 1951. Wait, sorry, my math is bad. That’s a .830 winning percentage, which is close to but not better than the current run of .881.

This is the best team in school history, and they have the nets cut down to prove it.

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Even before the ball was tossed in the national title game, this Villanova team had made history.

The best team Jay Wright had in his 15 years came into the national final against Carolina averaging 84.8 points per game in the NCAA tournament. In the semifinal win over Oklahoma, Villanova was unstoppable, winning by a Final Four-record 44 points, scoring on better than 71 percent of their shots. The only Final Four game that ever, in history, saw a better shooting performance than what Villanova had in the semifinals was the national title game…in 1985, when Villanova shot 78.6 percent in the monumental upset victory over Georgetown.

That Nova team shot 22-for-28 from the field to beat the Hoyas, winning the title at the free throw line as they slowed the game down and played keep-away for most of the second half. This Nova team flat ran the Sooners out of the gym, shooting 35-for-49, including 11-for-18 from three. The most efficient team in the NCAA Tournament proved that in the national semifinal, registering an eFG% of .827—in a football stadium. That’s unheard of, ever, in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

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Villanova’s 58.2 field goal percentage through its first five tournament games was one of the five-best shooting performances in NCAA tournament history. The Wildcats’ scoring margin of 20.2 points in those five games ranks as one of the ten best in tournament history as well.

This title game was surely closer, but Villanova still shot the lights out when they needed to, netting 58.3 percent of their shots, including 8-for-14 from behind the arc. Speaking of Arc, he led Villanova the entire tournament as the bracket’s most efficient player. But it was Phil Booth’s efforts off the bench—a team-best 20 points on 6-for-7 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line—that helped Villanova win its second title in history.

On the day Allen Iverson made it to the Basketball Hall of Fame, Villanova capped the night with Philly’s first title in years, and first college championship in what feels like a lifetime. This is the best basketball day in Philadelphia in 33 years, and it’s thanks to a slick, smooth-talking coach and his scrappy, tough, sharpshooting champions.

Villanova got their one shining moment, and it beat the buzzer, coming at exactly the right time.

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