Kris Jenkins’ game-winner provides perfect ending for NCAA Tournament

HOUSTON — Hours after it was over, they were still talking about it. In the lobbies of the hotels throughout downtown that were filled with visitors who might’ve had early flights but didn’t seem to care. In the bars packed with happy Villanova fans and crushed Carolinians.

They were still talking about Marcus Paige’s shot.

And Kris Jenkins’ shot.

Which led to Jay Wright’s non-reaction. And to Roy Williams’ tears.

They were still talking about the wild final 4.7 seconds of the best title game in NCAA Tournament history. They were still talking about how Jim Nantz’s “Jenkins for the championship” line topped “Chalmers for the tie” on the list of great Big Dance moments, if only because “for the championship” trumps “for the tie,” and never mind that Mario Chalmers’ game-tying shot ultimately led to Kansas winning the 2008 title in OT. Doesn’t matter. Because this was better. Because this was a true game-winning buzzer-beater, a shot that left Jenkins’ hands with time on the clock but swished with no time left.

“Kris Jenkins lives for that moment,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright.

And hours after it was over, they were still talking about that moment. In the bustling bars and crowded lobbies. And years from now, when we’re all back home and settled into our normal lives, we’ll still be talking about it. Because it was the perfect way to end this NCAA Tournament considering the past three weeks had already provided multiple how-did-that-happen/never-seen-that-before moments. This was just the latest. The latest and the best.

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The final was Villanova 77, North Carolina 74. But I can’t promise you’ll remember that forever. And I’m not sure you’ll always recall it happened at NRG Stadium. And the attendance was 74,340, which is something I know you’ll forget two paragraphs from now.

But you’re always going to remember Marcus Paige’s shot.

And Kris Jenkins’ shot.

Which led to Jay Wright’s non-reaction. And to Roy Williams’ tears.

There’d never been a double-pump 3-pointer to tie the score in a title game with 4.7 seconds remaining before Paige hit a double-pump 3-pointer to tie the score in Monday’s title game with 4.7 seconds remaining. And there’d never been a true buzzer-beater — i.e., a shot that left zero ticks on the clock when it went through the net — to close an NCAA Tournament before Jenkins hit that true buzzer-beater to close this NCAA Tournament.

So you’ll never forget those things.

Because they were things that we’d never seen before.

And this NCAA Tournament gave us plenty that we’d never seen before. Which is why, I think, this will go down as one of the most memorable NCAA Tournaments in history. Because it provided so many how-did-that-happen/never-seen-that-before moments.

For instance …

We’d never seen a school with the second-best odds to win the NCAA Tournament lose its opening game in the NCAA Tournament. But we saw it this year when Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State in the first round. And we’d never seen a team overcome a 12-point deficit in the final minute of a college basketball game, and I mean any college basketball game. But we saw it this year when Texas A&M erased Northern Iowa’s 12-point lead in the final 34 seconds of a second round game. And we’d never seen a team beat another by 40-plus points in the Final Four. But we saw it this year when Villanova beat Oklahoma by 44 in Saturday’s first national semifinal that ended the career of a National Player of the Year.

And then came Monday night.

Man, can you believe Monday night?

A team with zero future first-round draft picks won the national title, which is basically unprecedented in the modern era of college basketball. And that team did it via a shot that’ll be featured in highlight reels for as long as shots are featured in highlight reels.

So scoot over, Lorenzo Charles. And slide over, Mario Chalmers. Your championship-game final-second shots were nice. But Kris Jenkins’ true buzzer-beater that came on a play called “Nova” now tops the list of greatest shots in championship-game history.

And it ended one of the greatest NCAA Tournaments in history.

This 68-team event had an unfathomable upset.

An unimaginable collapse.

An unpredictable blowout.

And the craziest final 4.7 seconds of a season that any season’s ever had. And hours after it was over, they were still talking about it. In the lobbies of the hotels throughout downtown that were filled with visitors who might’ve had early flights but didn’t seem to care. In the bars packed with happy Villanova fans and crushed Carolinians.

Last season, Kris Jenkins averaged six points per game.

This season he hit the biggest 3-pointer in college basketball history.

Consequently, Jenkins is now a part of March Madness forever, even if his shot technically came in April. And they were still talking about it into the early hours of Tuesday morning. In the lobbies of the hotels throughout downtown that were filled with visitors who might’ve had early flights but didn’t seem to care. In the bars packed with happy Villanova fans and crushed Carolinians. And we’ll all still be talking about it years from now. How one of the most memorable NCAA Tournaments in history ended in the most memorable of ways.

Kris Jenkins hits the game-winning shot vs. North Carolina. (USATSI)
Kris Jenkins hits the game-winning shot vs. North Carolina. (USATSI)

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