HOUSTON — Villanova’s Kris Jenkins capped a thrilling, undeniably heart-stopping, instant classic of a NCAA championship game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 77-74 victory against North Carolina on Monday.
Jenkins’ shot came just after an unbelievable tying 3 by North Carolina’s Marcus Paige in an unbelievable finale.
UNC fans threw their seat cushions into the air on Paige’s double-clutch 3-pointer that tied the game with 4.7 seconds to go.
Then Villanova got the ball into its leader’s hands, and Ryan Arcidiacono found Jenkins, who got the shot off in time.
Amazingly, the game could wind up being more memorable than the team’s previous title-winner, which came in Cinderella fashion in 1985, when eighth-seeded Nova stunned Georgetown.
A controversial fourth foul call on UNC’s Isaiah Hicks against Villanova’s Phil Booth with 35.7 seconds to go made it a 3-point game after Booth — who led Nova with a career-high 20 points — sank both foul shots.
Paige, who had a game-high 21 points, missed a layup and then had a no-look reverse that fell on the ensuing possession. Paige was brilliant. This game was brilliant.
UNC rallied from a 10-point deficit (67-57) with 4:43 to go. Villanova outscored Carolina 43-35 in the second half.
Nova led 70-64 with 1:38 to go. Paige’s 3-pointer with 1:30 left made it a 70-67 game. Arcidiacono threw the ball out of bounds on the ensuing possession. Brice Johnson’s bank off the glass with 1:04 to go cut the lead to one.
The first half was tightly contested, no more than a five-point lead for either side until the final minute when North Carolina went on a run to push it to 39-32 until a last-second Josh Hart jumper pushed it to within five. Berry was the star, scoring 15 points while hitting 6-of-7 from the field.
Ultimately, the story of the first half was just how strangely different the two teams found their successes compared to the rest of their seasons. North Carolina did an excellent job of exploiting Nova’s switching defense and knocking down shots from both the inside and outside. Despite coming into the game ranked 294th in the country in 3-point percentage, the Heels went 7-of-9 from behind the arc and generally found easier shots than the tough ones that Nova made. North Carolina also took advantage in two key places in the opening stanza. They out-rebounded Villanova five to one on the offensive end, mostly asserting themselves in order to gain extra possessions.
— Sam Vecenie contributed to this story.