Virginia has finally done it.
The Cavaliers (35-3) won the first National Championship in school history Monday night, beating Texas Tech (31-7) 85-77 in overtime to win it all.
Two nights after beating Auburn in the closing seconds, and a week after going to the Final Four off an overtime buzzer beater, Virginia came up with yet another miracle to defeat Texas Tech.
Down by three points in regulation with less than 20 seconds to go, the Cavaliers needed a three to tie the game. Sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter had the answer, draining a corner three off a pass from junior guard Ty Jerome to send the game to overtime.
Hunter was outstanding all game. He had a career-high 27 points on 4-5 shooting from three, doing it inside and outside, and played great defense on Texas Tech standout sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, holding him to just 5-22 shooting. Hunter, who had just 5 first half points, exploded in the second half and overtime.
“De'Andre [Hunter] usually lets it come, and that — I think he grew up in a way in this tournament in the second half of the Auburn game, and definitely — and he was getting his shots, but he just — you saw it in him, and that — when he puts that into it, boy, he's special,” Coach Tony Bennett said.
Hunter made a go-ahead three in overtime to put Virginia up 75-73, and the Cavaliers cruised the rest of the way to victory. They were 12-12 from the line in overtime and iced the game with ease.
Hunter was 4-5 from three against Texas Tech, despite shooting just 5-19 from three in his previous five games in the NCAA Tournament.
The first half was all the game was chalked up to be — a defensive battle.
It was a slow start for both teams offensively with just one field goal combined in the first 5:34.
Junior guard Kyle Guy and Jerome made two baskets to end the scoring drought for Virginia early, bringing the Cavaliers up 7-3, and a smooth pass from Jerome to junior transfer guard Braxton Key ended in a dunk to put Virginia up 9-3.
Key played a critical role in the championship game, with a game-high 10 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench.
Texas Tech sophomore guard Davide Moretti answered with a three, the Red Raiders’ first field goal of the game, but Guy responded with a stepback three of his own to put the Cavaliers up 12-6.
Sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter’s assertiveness early was also huge for the Cavaliers. He made two free throws after catching his own putback to put Virginia up 17-7.
Four three-pointers by the Red Raiders, however, tied things up at 19 apiece with 7:34 to play in the half.
The Red Raiders found some momentum. Their defenders were swarming, and the Cavaliers struggled on offense, punctuated by a Guy travel.
They took a 25-21 lead, their biggest of the night, on a shot from senior guard Matt Mooney. Freshman guard Kihei Clark had the answer on the next possession, however, as he buried a three to make it a one-point game with 4:24 to play in the half.
The Cavaliers went into the half on a good note with great ball movement leading to a wide open three from Jerome. It was Virginia up 32-29 going into the break, the Cavaliers’ first lead since the 6:39 mark in the first half.
Jerome drained the three to go into the break, and had yet another impressive stat line in the championship, punctuated by a game-high eight assists.
Virginia started the second half off hot. Guy made a three on the first possession, and a pair of free throws from Hunter put the Cavaliers up 37-29.
The Red Raiders came within four points on a three from senior guard Brandone Francis, but Hunter responded with a three of his own to make it 45-38.
Hunter made another three to make it 50-41 Virginia, sending the Cavaliers into the media timeout with a nine-point lead.
Jerome found Guy on a no-look pass for a three to get Virginia’s lead to ten, 53-43 with 10:22 to go, but two consecutive layups from Moretti made it a six-point game.
The Cavaliers led 59-53 as Jerome called a timeout with 4:47 to go.
But Texas Tech was not going away easily. Mooney drained a corner three to make it 59-56, and a tough lay-in and free throw from senior center Norense Odiase tied it up at 59 apiece with 3:28 left.
Junior forward Mamadi Diakite made two big free throws, but Culver tied it up at 61 with two free throws of his own.
Hunter made a tough shot over Culver to make it 63-61, and a Guy lay-in had the Cavaliers’ lead back out to four.
The Red Raiders wouldn’t go away, however, and a three from Moretti with 1:31 remaining made it a one-point game.
Culver got by Hunter to give the Red Raiders a 66-65 lead with 35 seconds left, their first lead of the half.
Jerome’s attempt to retake the lead rimmed out, and the Cavaliers fouled, sending Odiase to the line. He made both, putting the Red Raiders up three.
Hunter made the game-tying three, and the rest was history. The Cavaliers pulled off yet another miracle in the NCAA Tournament and dominated the last two minutes of overtime to win the first National Championship in school history.
Virginia’s “big three” of Hunter, Guy and Jerome — who all came to Charlottesville in the same recruiting class — led the Cavaliers to victory.
Virginia's big three combined for 117 of the Cavaliers' 148 points in the Final Four.
“When they came on the recruiting visit, I remember telling them, look, the foundation has been laid by guys — Joe [Harris] and Malcolm [Brogdon] were here and all the guys who went before,” Bennett said. “We had won some ACC championships, we've been to the Elite Eight. I said, ‘We're asking you to build on that foundation, and even at that house, that's going to be the hardest step. But if you're willing, we'll take a chance.’ That's why I mentioned the Rocky poster, I said I want guys who want a chance at a title fight.”
The “big three” certainly stepped up to Bennett’s challenge Monday night. They combined for 67 of Virginia’s 85 points, and all made the All-Final Four Team along with Mooney and Culver.
Guy was named Most Outstanding Player with a 24-point display two nights after carrying the Cavaliers to the championship game with his late-game heroics.
“I know he's a young man of faith and he has great confidence in himself, and he's honest, and he's just got it,” Bennett said of Guy. “He did it again and made big shots, and I've seen that from — you look at him, and he's not the most physical guy, but it's inside.”
Most Outstanding Player Kyle Guy rebounded from a slow start in the NCAA Tournament to lead the Cavaliers to two hard-fought victories in Minneapolis.
Jerome, who had 16 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in the game, noted the remarkable unity of this Virginia team when reflecting on the win.
“I'm just thinking this is a dream come true, and it's even more than that because you never even imagine you'll be able to spend a year with people you actually love, your teammates and your coaches,” Jerome said. “Not a lot of people get along like we do, so to share this moment with them is unbelievable.”
Coach Tony Bennett has the Cavaliers on top. A year after a historic defeat, Virginia came up with a historic victory Monday night.
“It's a great story,” Bennett said. “That's probably the best way I can end this. It's a great story.”
Just over 10 years after being hired to coach at Virginia, Tony Bennett has led the Cavaliers to history.