Prior to Monday evening’s national title game between Virginia and Texas Tech, many were skeptical that the contest would be entertaining. After 45 minutes of action, it would’ve been impossible to argue that the competition wasn’t enthralling and, in the end, Virginia emerged with its first national championship in program history, outlasting the Red Raiders by a final score of 85-77 in overtime.
The evening began in on-brand fashion, at least when it came to a lack of scoring. The two teams combined for just five points in the first five-plus minutes of action and, in doing so, missed 10 of their first 11 shots. Texas Tech took longer to awaken, as Virginia used a 7-0 run to take a 9-3 lead, while the Red Raiders opened 0-of-8 from the floor.
Texas Tech would finally dent the scoreboard with their first field goal at the 12:49 mark and, while Virginia held the edge, open shots were virtually impossible to come by on either end.
Virginia pushed to a 17-7 lead and, considering Texas Tech’s largest deficit of the tournament was just five points prior to Monday night, that margin felt significant. From there, however, the Red Raiders reeled off a big-time run, beginning with four three-pointers in a span of two minutes to knot the game at 19-19.
Overall, Chris Beard’s team used an 18-4 run to take a 25-21 lead and, with haste, the game flipped on its head.
To their credit, Virginia did close strong, overcoming their own drought with an offensive barrage (at least by the standards of this game) in the final minutes of the half. The Cavaliers closed the half on an 11-4 run, combining signs of life from projected lottery pick De’Andre Hunter with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Ty Jerome to take a 32-29 lead into the break.
Despite the lack of scoring at the outset, the first half actually zoomed from an offensive perspective, with the two teams easily surpassing the first half over/under from the good folks in Las Vegas. Much of that stemmed from each team knocking down five three-pointers but, at the very least, the early going pushed back against the narrative that fireworks would be at a premium over the course of 40 minutes.
Carrying over their momentum from the end of the first half, Virginia kept it going, using a Kyle Guy three-pointer to kick things off and eventually extending their lead to 38-29. In total, it was a 17-4 run across the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, with the Cavaliers seemingly taking full control of the proceedings.
On cue, projected Texas Tech lottery pick Jarrett Culver got things going, generating back-to-back buckets off the dribble after a slow start.
The Red Raiders continued to score but, on the other end, Hunter came alive in full. The talented forward knocked down back-to-back threes and gave the Cavaliers a 50-41 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining.
Moments later, Virginia pushed the lead to 10 when Jerome found Guy with a beautiful pass for a three-pointer from the corner.
Texas Tech would not fade, though, scoring the next five points and staying within striking distance. Still, Jerome kept making plays in response, knocking down a contested jumper to beat the shot clock buzzer.
After a back-and-forth, Culver brought the Red Raiders back within six at 57-51 with 6:16 remaining but, on the other end, Hunter continued his strong performance in the second half with a bucket of his own. In retaliation, Texas Tech kept swing, with Kyler Edwards burying a much-needed jumper to keep things manageable.
Out of a timeout, Virginia led by six points with less than five minutes remaining but there was drama yet to unfold. After an empty possession by the Cavaliers, Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney canned a three-pointer to climb within three and that was quickly followed by a more conventional three-point play from Norense Odiase to tie the game at 59-59 with 3:28 to play.
Virginia’s offense stalled for nearly three minutes without scoring as the Red Raiders charged but, after a pair of free throws on both sides, Hunter and Guy combined for back-to-back buckets to give the Cavaliers a four-point lead.
Davide Moretti had a response, though, converting on a crucial three-pointer to bring things back to 65-64 with 1:31 left.
Texas Tech then generated a massive stop on defense, reclaiming possession with 1:08 remaining in a one-point game.
Then, after an extended possession, Culver gave the Red Raiders the lead (their first of the second half) with a bucket at the rim with 35.1 seconds on the clock.
Jerome then missed a contested shot, allowing Odiase to gather the rebound and step to the line to convert a pair of free throws to give his team a three-point advantage. Not to be outdone, Hunter sunk a corner three for the tie after a defensive breakdown by Texas Tech.
Culver had the opportunity to win it in regulation, but his three clanked off the rim. The Red Raiders were granted a brief reprieve, though, when Virginia committed an egregious error when trying to call timeout on the rebound.
Fortunately, the Cavaliers did not have that blow-up come back to bite them, as Texas Tech was unable to get a shot to the rim in the final second, forcing the eighth overtime game in the history of the national championship game.
In the overtime period, things were back-and-forth in a way that was fitting of the game as a whole. Hunter began things with two free throws but, in a hurry, Mooney made a big-time impact.
First, he buried a three.
Then, after a Virginia turnover, Mooney got a jumper to fall with some help from the rim.
Virginia wasn’t ready to fade, though, with Guy converting two free throws and, after a stop, Hunter made his presence known again with a corner three.
After a dead period in the scoring department (helped by a controversial official review that gave Virginia the ball), Jerome got to the line and converted a pair of free throws with 41.5 seconds left, putting Virginia up by four points at 77-73. Then, Texas Tech came up empty on an open corner three and, when Guy gathered the ball off the carom, he strolled to the line and gave the Cavaliers a six-point edge with only 31.2 seconds left.
The Red Raiders then produced another empty possession and, when Mamadi Diakite buried two shots at the line with 23.5 seconds remaining, it was virtually academic. Virginia parlayed their 81-73 advantage at that point into a 85-77 final score (after making 12 consecutive free throws in the extra period) and a staggeringly impressive victory.
All told, it was a wild game with no shortage of memorable moments. Hunter left an overwhelming impression with 27 points and nine rebounds in what was likely his last college game, with Guy adding 24 points (including four threes) and Jerome producing 16 points, six rebounds and eight assists. Given that the trio was responsible for a tremendous run for Virginia in recent years, it was oddly fitting that they were at the center of it all and, after 40 wild minutes, the program earned its first national championship.
Just 12 months ago, Virginia was suffering the embarrassment of becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now, they are national champions and Tony Bennett can add a title to his already impressive resume.