MINNEAPOLIS - Given the road to their one shining moment Monday, the Virginia Cavaliers plan to appreciate the national championship glow.
“This is just everything you dream as a kid. This is a dream come true,” Virginia guard Ty Jerome said.
“Last year, it drew us even closer together. It made us enjoy every part of the season even more. It made us enjoy each other even more. We grew more united, enjoyed every part of the season. Obviously, to end the year like this is unreal.”
Virginia went to overtime to put away Texas Tech 85-77, closing out the season as national champions one year after leaving the NCAA Tournament as the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 (UMBC).
“If you learn to use adversity right, it will buy you a ticket to a place you can’t go to any other way,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I think (last year’s loss to UMBC) bought us a ticket to a national championship.
“At the time, you wouldn’t have thought it. But you can’t go through the stuff no one has experienced. They had to deal with things, come together and tighten in a way — they were a joy to coach. Anything I said, it was, ‘Yes, sir.’ They went after it. This was our united pursuit.”
De’Andre Hunter scored a career-high 27 points, Kyle Guy added 24 and Jerome finished with 16 for the Cavaliers, who earned their first-ever national title.
Hunter erupted in the second half and overtime with 22 points.
“We did have some defensive lapses,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said.
“You have to give them a lot of credit. They iso’d (Hunter), but he hit some big shots. We would like to have some of those plays back, but more importantly, he hit tough shots. He’s a pro. We were dialed in. We knew who he was. He just hit a lot of tough shots.”
Virginia claimed a 77-73 lead with two free throws from Jerome, and Texas Tech’s Brandone Francis missed a corner 3-point attempt with 33 seconds left in overtime. Guy soon was sent to the line, where he padded the advantage to 79-73.
Virginia went 12 of 12 on foul shots in overtime.
“Coach said to us, ‘Run to the finish line, not the start line,’” Guy said.
Hunter had earlier drained a corner trey as Virginia reclaimed the lead, 75-73, with 2:09 left in overtime. Guy previously made a pair of free throws for the Cavaliers to keep it a one-possession game.
“We came in together and said we were going to win a national championship,” Guy said. “This is a really special group because we shared the same (path).”
Matt Mooney, who hit a 3-pointer on Texas Tech’s previous trip, fought into the lane but was trapped before fading to his right for a jumper that kissed virtually every part of the iron and dropped home for a 73-70 Texas Tech lead. Virginia then went on an 11-0 run.
“We felt like we had momentum, we came back from about 10,” Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver said. “Mindset was just five-minute game — we practice it every day.”
Guy was selected the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The Final Four all-tournament team was Guy, Hunter, Jerome, Mooney and Culver.
Neither team dropped the gloves for the final 10 minutes of regulation or overtime.
With 14 seconds left in the second half, Hunter made a game-tying 3-pointer — from nearly the same spot on the floor as the OT bucket — on a feed from Jerome, who had eight assists. Beard said he considered fouling since Virginia got the ball back with 22 seconds left down three but felt there was too much time on the clock.
Culver gave Texas Tech a 66-65 lead with 35.1 seconds left in regulation. He attacked the middle of the lane and spun to his left, double clutching before putting the ball off the glass with his left hand over Hunter, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
“That’s a matchup we wanted,” Bennett said.
Jerome missed a runner off the left side of the rim at the other end, sending Norense Odiase to the line after he was fouled collecting the Jerome miss. Odiase made both foul shots.
Hunter stuck a jumper over Culver for a 63-61 lead. Culver’s answer fell short and Guy connected on a layup, but Virginia’s four-point lead went to one with sophomore Davide Moretti’s third triple at the 1:31 mark.
Odiase converted an and-1, tying the game at 59 with 3:28 remaining to cap an 8-0 run. Virginia led by as many as 10 in the second half with Hunter and Jerome carrying the offense, but the Red Raiders’ bench — sparked by Francis — helped Texas Tech stay afloat.
Mooney looked for his shot and connected with a long trey to pull Texas Tech within 59-56 with four minutes left.
Before bagging a step-back, 16-foot fadeaway of his own, Jerome zipped a right-handed pass from the block to Guy in the left corner for an in-rhythm 3-pointer to push Virginia ahead 53-43 at the 10-minute mark.
With Texas Tech’s primary options in a funk, Francis was a one-man gang for critical stretches and Culver heated up in the second half. Francis finished with a team-high 17. Culver, who missed eight shots before one went down, and Moretti had 15 apiece.
“He’s a great player, athletic, he played me well tonight,” Culver said of Hunter, who turned in dogged defense.
Hunter hit back-to-back 3s, nudging Virginia’s lead to 50-41 just as Texas Tech missed for the first time in five trips.
Virginia (35-3) led 32-29 at halftime. Jerome nailed a 20-footer from the top of the key to cap a tug-of-war first half during which the teams combined for 10 3-pointers, five ties and four lead changes.
The Red Raiders (31-7) were able to hang around thanks to 13 points off the bench — and 7-of-13 shooting to end the half.
—By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media