The two bangs of the national title game



Matthew Sheridan

When I’m an old man, and I’ve got wrinkly skin and gray hair and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast in the morning, I know the one thing I’ll still remember from the Villanova Men’s Basketball Team’s buzzer-beating victory over North Carolina in the National Championship game on Monday night.

Bang. Bang. The two moments, coming a split second apart, that culminated my four years here on campus supporting this team.

When Marcus Paige hit what is still one of the greatest shots in the history of March Madness, my first thought was that although this Tar Heel prayer was devastating, 4.7 seconds was enough time to get a solid shot off. They’d be able to inbound it, take a few dribbles and hopefully get a good look at the basket. UNC would have had all the momentum if they went to overtime, so there was pressure to capitalize on this opportunity and finish the game then.

Well, as everybody knows, that’s exactly what happened.

At the Final Four, you are periodically reminded that this is not just a basketball game. You remember when you see the football stadium that it’s being played in, or when the lights go out and 80,000 people lose their mind during introductions or during the national anthem when fireworks go off in time with the lyrics, even though you’re inside an arena. They went off immediately after the game, too, and that is the one thing that I keep going back to. Between Jenkin’s legendary shot floating through the hoop and the celebratory fireworks, there was a split-second of I-Don’t-Know-What. I guess you could call it uncertainty, because it seemed so improbable. But we had all seen the shot go in. I suppose it was more disbelief. “Did that really just happen?”

It wasn’t even long enough to think those words. It was a heartbeat, really—just long enough to feel them. Quicker than a referee’s whistle or a Jalen Brunson jab step. And it was in that momentary halt in time that the past four years as a Villanova student cheering on the Villanova Basketball team had reached their apex.

I’ll never forget walking into the Pavilion on Candidates’ Day of my senior year of high school and my dad seeing the mural of the 1985 champs and saying, “That was an unbelievable team. Talk about team basketball. But you can only celebrate one title for so long.” I’ll never forget running back from class in the pouring rain my freshman year to sit, sopping wet, in an overcrowded room in McGuire Hall to watch them try and follow up their classic wins against Louisville and Syracuse on the road against Notre Dame. I’ll never forget sophomore year, driving to upstate New York and sitting in the last row of the Carrier Dome with three friends, trying to represent ’Nova in a sea of Syracuse Orange. I’ll never forget the radio show we’ve spent the past three years using as a public forum to debate and agonize over this team and get our friends to call in with hot takes so we could pretend to be drive-time sports talk radio hotshots.

These are the memories that came to me in that moment, but really, every senior in that crowd or back on campus felt the same ones.

The late nights when you and your roommate both can’t sleep and so you stay up debating what our seed for the tournament should be or who you think is going to perform at Hoops Mania.

Texting each other to coordinate a time in between class when you can all pick up your Wells Fargo tickets so you’ll all be in the South Section together.

Arch’s off-balance three to force overtime against Syracuse freshman year.

Losing to Seton Hall on a Fuquan Edwin corner three, rendering our tournament chances slim. Beating fifth-ranked Georgetown a week later, securing our place in the Big Dance. Beating Kansas our sophomore year and thinking, “Oh my gosh, we might be good,” but then losing to UConn in the second round and hearing all about how we weren’t.

NC State.

Then, finally, this March. When we finally exorcised our demons and got out of the second round by beating Iowa. When Jay Wright and Rollie Massimino walked arm in arm down to the team send-off before the Sweet Sixteen game against Miami and we went on to blow them off the floor. When we made things “ugly” against the number one team in the country and beat Kansas, the inventors of basketball, to advance to the Final Four. And then Saturday night, when we had the largest margin of victory in Final Four history against the best player in the country. 

These experiences built up over the past four years, first excitedly, then disappointingly, then unbelievably and improbably, until there were only 4.7 seconds left. Ryan Arcidiacono, always one to make the right play, crossed half court, worked his way to the top of the key, then turned and calmly flipped the ball to Kris Jenkins who took one, then two steps, rose in rhythm and released the ball.

He hits it. Bang. 

That split-second of unexplainable emotion.

Then the fireworks. Bang.

They sent the crowd into pandemonium and those memories rose up and erupted into the streets of Radnor and the stands of NRG Stadium like an overflowing bottle of Coke that has just had a Mento dropped into it—one event causing an uncontrollable reaction.

To win the national championship in your senior year is a dream. It’s the type of thing that you only talk about in those late night conversations or over a few $2 Coors Lights at Erin’s. For much of our time here, this team was just trying to prove that it could win the big game. If you took a poll on campus, most people would’ve been happy with an Elite Eight loss to Kansas. That’s a far way to go in the tournament and there’s no shame in that. But there were more memories to be made, and now it’s happened. The ’Cats are number one.

Finally, actually, after all this, the ’Cats are Number One.