Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77 | Overtime: Virginia Beats Texas Tech in OT to Claim Its First N.C.A.A. Title
MINNEAPOLIS — A year after exiting the court as a picture of embarrassment, the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament, Virginia left wearing a crown on Monday night.
The Cavaliers defeated Texas Tech, 85-77, in overtime for the university’s first national basketball championship, which carried with it immeasurable redemption.
“Forget last year,” Virginia’s Ty Jerome said. “This is everything you dream of since you’re a little kid.”
This title game was the first in 40 years between men’s teams that had never been there before. The last one was the showdown in which Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird and Indiana State in Salt Lake City.
Monday night’s game did not offer anything near that level of star power. Instead, viewers got a matchup of teams that rely on a throwback style of play — methodical offense, lunch-pail defense and rosters long on experience.
With a pair of pulverizing defenses and coaches who demanded diligent shot selection, the game began in sync with expectations — as something that looked like three dribbles and a cloud of sawdust. Five minutes in, that had produced a baseball score: 3-2, in favor of Texas Tech. And it took the Red Raiders more than seven minutes to score their first field goal.
But the game quickly morphed into one for the ages, as the teams traded shot after shot down the stretch and into overtime until the Red Raiders could deliver no more.
“Every time I thought we had it, they made a shot or made a play,” Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney said afterward, barely audible and staring at the ground as he sat at his locker. “It was a battle. We threw a punch, they threw a punch. They came right back at us every time.”
It was fitting that a De’Andre Hunter 3-pointer from the corner, with 2 minutes 10 seconds left in overtime, put the Cavaliers ahead for good, 75-73.
Hunter, who missed last year’s tournament with a broken wrist, carried Virginia at both ends of the court, harassing the Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver into 5-for-22 shooting and shrugging off his own struggles in the first half to finish with a career-high 27 points.
The Cavaliers, who needed some miraculous moments to arrive here — a shot flicked into the basket at the buzzer by Mamadi Diakite to carry them into overtime against Purdue and Kyle Guy’s steel-nerved free throws with six-tenths of a second left to carry them past Auburn in Saturday’s semifinal — got some more on Monday night.
With 14 seconds left in regulation play on Monday, Hunter took a pass from Jerome, who had penetrated into the lane, and knocked down a tying 3-pointer from the corner, in front of the Virginia bench.
It was a particularly crushing shot for Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders had crept back from a 10-point deficit midway through the second half, and they did so without much help from Tariq Owens, the starting forward who sprained his right ankle on Saturday and then received round-the-clock treatment and a painkilling shot to try to get through the title game. Owens played just 22 minutes.
Still, when Norense Odiase sank two free throws with 22 seconds left to put Texas Tech ahead by 68-65, the Red Raiders were right where they wanted to be — turning to their defense, rated by KenPom as the best in the nation.
“I thought we just needed one more stop,” Odiase said. “We pride ourselves on getting stops like that. I thought it was over.”
But as Jerome drove into the lane, Culver left Hunter to help, and Mooney neglected to rotate off Kihei Clark, the freshman guard who is a reluctant shooter.
“I was thinking I have to make this,” said Hunter, who missed seven of eight shots in the first half and scored 22 points in the second. “That’s exactly what I said in my head. I shot it. It felt good. It was on a line. And it went in.”
Texas Tech had been rescued to that point by Brandone Francis, who scored 17 points off the bench, and by some heroic play from Odiase down the stretch. And though Culver came alive offensively late, scoring 15 points and delivering five assists and three blocks, he could not deliver quite enough. He missed two shots in the final seconds of regulation — the first with Hunter contesting — that would have delivered an unlikely title for Texas Tech, which was unranked at the start of the season.
Hunter also had a hand in a pivotal defensive play in overtime, knocking the ball away from Davide Moretti and out of bounds with 1:06 remaining and Virginia clinging to a 75-73 lead. The officials ruled that the ball had gone off Hunter, who raked Moretti across the arm, but the call was overturned after a replay review, and the ball went to Virginia.
Jerome made two foul shots with 41 seconds left, and Virginia, which made all 12 of its free throw attempts in overtime, never gave the ball back to Texas Tech with a chance for it to tie.
To win the championship, Virginia not only had to fend off the determined Red Raiders and win thrillers against Purdue and Auburn. It also had to beat back ghosts from last year — when it was stunned by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County — and many questions about whether Coach Tony Bennett’s methodical system was suited to championship basketball.
Bennett, whose father, Dick, took Wisconsin to the Final Four in 2000, had built Virginia into a powerhouse during his 10 years at the university but had advanced beyond the first weekend of the N.C.A.A tournament only twice before this season.
Last season’s disappointment stung like no other.
It lingered below the surface all season for the Cavaliers, who promised that they would be better for the experience.
Guy, a starting guard, has used a photo of himself, bent over with his head in his hands while U.M.B.C. players celebrated around him, as his Twitter avatar for the last year. And when a reporter recently apologized for asking a question about that game, Guy told him it was not necessary.
“If you have a conflict, try to hit it head on,” Guy, who scored 24 points, explained on Sunday. “That’s the only way you’re going to get past it, and that’s something that I’ve learned over the years: If you shy away from it, that’s where sometimes your anxiety will come in and haunt you. So I just wanted to hit it head on.”
And so the Cavaliers did, and at the end of their redemptive journey, they learned what it was like to embrace something much more comforting — a gleaming trophy.