Kris Jenkins’ shot heard ‘round the Main Line will reverberate around here for the ages.
The 3-point buzzer beater that gave Villanova the National Championship, 77-74, over North Carolina Monday night in Houston in what was not only a classic but a rarity — a title game living up to its hype — will go down as one of the great moments in college basketball lore.
For a team touched by magic, for a coach who seemed more distraught for the stunned losing Tar Heels than joyful for his own players, it put the exclamation point on a remarkable season where everything finally came together after so many disappointments.
And it means Jay Wright, Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Josh Hart, unlikely sixth man hero Phil Booth and of course, Jenkins, can take their place at the table right alongside Rollie Massimino’s celebrated 1985 gang — many of whom — like Eddie Pinckney and Harold Pressley were on hand for the occasion.
They’re all champions.
So for the first time since Brad Lidge fanned Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske to clinch the 2008 World Series for the Phillies, folks here have something to celebrate. Not everybody will, because there’s still some animosity on Hawk Hill at Saint Joseph’s and at Temple towards the Wildcats — and particularly towards Massimino, whom many feel was the driving force trying breaking up the Big Five in the late 80s.
While that never happened it did result in most Big Five games being moved from the Palestra to the various campuses. Consequently, those folks have held a grudge the past three decades.
But for the rest it’s party time, with the hope maybe this will lift the curse off the pro teams in town whom — other than those 2008 Phils — have all come up empty since Doctor J’s 1983 Sixers finally paid off their “We owe you one” debt.
That’s a story for another day, though. This one’s about a bunch of kids playing what they simply call “Villanova basketball.” And doing it better than everyone else.
“This is the stuff you dream of,” backup center Darryl Reynolds told Comcast Sportsnet in the midst of the celebration “I’ll wake up tomorrow and realize that it’s real. We’re National Champs! It’s crazy. Especially to do for Arch and D.O.(Ochefu) who’ve put in so much. They lost to this team their freshman year in the tournament.”
And had Jenkins shot spilled out, sending it into overtime after Villanova had squandered a 67-57 lead with five minutes left, they might well have lost to them again. Fortunately, they never had to find out.
Arcidiacono said he simply ran the play the Cats run every day in practice designed for just such an occasion and Jenkins made sure of it. That turned a few thousand crammed into the Pavilion back home delirious. At the same time Houston’s NRG Stadium became littered with confetti.
Jenkins, who inbounded the ball following a timeout after North Carolina’s Marcus Paige made an improbable double-clutch 3-pointer to tie it, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds left, raced upcourt as the trailer while Arciadiacono scurried towards the basket drawing Tar Heel defenders with him. By the time he stopped on a dime and dropped it back to Jenkins, who was gathering himself for a clean look at the basket it was too late for them to do anything but watch the flight of the ball and listen for that fatal sound.
“I always take the ball up,” said Jenkins, wearing his new “National Champions” T-shirt, nearly an hour later after the Cats had finished cutting down the nets. “So from previous games I realize when I take the ball out, the defenders usually follow the ball. When they all followed the ball, I just knew if I got in his line of vision he would find me.”
Arcidiacono did and an instant later Kris Jenkins had the “one shining moment” that will stick with him the rest of his life.
We work on that play every single day in practice,” said Arcidiacono, the heart of the team, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. “I'm always the one with the ball. I was trying to be aggressive. If I could get a shot, I was going to shoot it. But I heard someone screaming in the back of my head. It was Kris. I just gave it to him and he let it go confidence.”
The debate is already on where that shot and this finish will go down in the pantheon of championship games, with UNC freshman Michael Jordan’s 1982 game winner over Georgetown and Indiana’s Keith Smart beating Syracuse in 1986 heading the list. None of that really matters to Jenkins, Arcidiacono, Hart and the rest of Jay Wright’s Wildcats, of course.
Thanks to the shot heard ‘round the Main Line they’re finally top Cats throughout the land.