Marcus Paige threw his left fist in the air after he drilled a sensational, double-clutch three to tie up the score at 74 with 4.7 seconds left — Michael Jordan enjoyed it as well, extending both arms up as he rose from his chair. After a timeout by Villanova, Ryan Archidiacono crossed over on Joel Berry, who got hit on a Daniel Ochefu screen, and shovel passed to a trailing Kris Jenkins, who hoisted up a prayer.
The buzzer sounded, and confetti exploded. A stunned Michael Jordan couldn’t help but mutter “good shot, good shot,” as Villanova stormed the court as National champions. It was the perfect end to a wild NCAA tournament and a magical run by the Villanova Wildcats who were seen as the underdog to a powerhouse University of North Carolina team.
The Tar Heels held a 39-34 lead going into the break, powered by Joel Berry’s 15 first half points. Carolina, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, outshot Villanova from behind the arc — 65% for UNC, 57% for ‘Nova.
North Carolina was just seconds away from their sixth national championship, and looking at the box score would lead someone to believe UNC should’ve won. The Tar Heels outrebounded Villanova 36-23, including 16-2 on the offensive glass; their ball movement was gorgeous. The Heels dished out 16 assists, compared to Villanova’s six. Ultimately, it came down to free throw shooting, where Villanova outshot UNC, 76% (13/17) to 69% (9/13).
The Wildcats’ newest hero was just 1/3 on threes before he hit the game winner, and he finished with 14 points overall. “I think every shot’s going in,” Jenkins said, “and this one was no different.” Sophomore Phil Booth led the Wildcats with 20 points, and senior Ryan Archidiacono had 16.
Marcus Paige finished with 21 points to lead all scorers; Joel Berry finished with 20 after an incredible first half, and Brice Johnson was rather quiet with just 14 points.
The capturing of this championship was the second in Villanova’s history. The first was back in 1985 when Rollie Massimino led the eighth seed Villanova Wildcats past Patrick Ewing, John Thompson, and the Georgetown Hoyas.
If anything is more interesting than this game, it would be the future of these two programs. Both Archidiacono and Ochefu are leaving and will most likely test their luck in the draft; it’s unclear if Jenkins and Josh Hart will forego their senior seasons and enter the NBA. If they were to leave, there would be holes to fill. Although Brunson, Booth, and Mikal Bridges would still be around, Villanova has had just two recruits sign with them so far. However, one of them is five-star center Omari Spellman, who’s the best player in Ohio, according to ESPN’s rankings.
UNC’s future is just as unclear — possibly even more. Brice Johnson and Paige are gone, but the Tar Heels could also see some other players leave. Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, and Kennedy Meeks seem like they’re on the bubble even though it would be best for them to stay. Despite the possibility of all these departures, UNC’s recruiting class is in good shape so far and bears three players in the ESPN 100.
Among all this optimism, legendary coach Roy Williams may be stepping down from the program. Chapel Hill has had numerous cases of academic fraud that has put them under rigorous prosecution from the NCAA. And the basketball team was not exempt. Williams, 65, might want to just avoid all of that and retire.
Regardless, congratulations to Ryan Archidiacono for winning the Final Four’s MOP, and to the Villanova Wildcats, your 2016 NCAA Tournament champions.