Villanova recovers after blowing late lead to beat North Carolina for national title

The ball was in the air, and two teams, two coaches and 74,340 fans craned their necks to catch a glimpse.

If it went in, it would be a thunderous, thrilling conclusion to one of the best college basketball games in years. For Villanova and North Carolina, the national championship hung in the balance.

Villanova’s lead had just evaporated. Overtime loomed. North Carolina guard Marcus Paige’s dramatic three-point basket had tied the score with less than five seconds to play. But that shot was about to be upstaged.

With time winding down, Ryan Arcidiacono had brought the ball upcourt and passed it back to Kris Jenkins, who let it fly.

The ball went in, Jenkins’ hands went up and his teammates wrestled him down. The clock showed zeros. Villanova took the championship, 77-74.

Moments before, it had nearly vanished. Villanova led by three points with less than 10 seconds to play.

Paige lined up a three-pointer. He faked. The first defender went by. Arcidiacono closed. Paige jumped, pumped and twisted in the air, firing up a shot. The ball swirled in.

North Carolina fans tossed their seat cushions in the air like graduation caps. But the commencement never culminated.

North Carolina was led by Paige with 21 points. Joel Berry II scored 20. For Villanova, which won its second national title, Phil Booth scored 20 points and Arcidiacono scored 16.

And Jenkins, once an overweight afterthought of a recruit, was the hero. He scored 14. As fate would have it, his stepbrother, Nate Britt, plays for North Carolina. Initially, Villanova recruited Britt. Jenkins was told that he lacked the work ethic to make the team. But he stuck around.

After the game, Jenkins found Britt on the court. Britt’s parents had taken Jenkins in, at Jenkins’ parents’ request, and treated him as a son.

“This hurts,” Britt said. “It’s bragging rights, probably, for the rest of our lives.”

This was a season that supposedly featured no dominant teams, in an era taken over by freshmen and dominated by the three-point shot. Yet it yielded two finalists, neither with a likely one-and-done player, that breezed into the title game.

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