The Texas Tech Red Raiders reached overtime in the National Championship on Monday night before falling 85-77 to the Virginia Cavaliers, ending their remarkable run just one win short of the first title in program history.
The championship began even slower than a bout between two of the nation’s top defenses was supposed to. Virginia built a 4-3 lead over Tech in the first six minutes of the game and it appeared as if either team would be lucky to finish with 20 points by halftime.
Inevitably, both sides got hot and started hitting three-point shots. Tech took the lead in the final five minutes of the half before the Cavs reclaimed it with a Ty Jerome three-pointer as time expired.
Throughout much of the second half, Virginia appeared to be the superior team that would cruise to the title. They built a 10-point lead over the Red Raiders with just 10 minutes to go. With the ferocity of Virginia’s defense, it mine as well have been a 20-point lead.
But the Red Raiders were ready for one last surge to save a season in which they have fought tooth and nail to run the gauntlet of the NCAA Tournament. Tech hung around until they made their move with just over five minutes to play, trailing by eight.
An 8-0 run, including a three-pointer from Matt Mooney and a old-fashioned three-point play by Norense Odiase, tied the game up at 59 with less than four minutes to play in regulation. After the Cavs rebuilt a four-point cushion, Tech’s Davide Moretti connected from downtown and Jarrett Culver added a jumper to give the Red Raiders the lead.
With less than a minute left, it was time for Tech’s highly-touted defense to bring home the title. They would need two stops to pull this off. They came away with a defensive rebound on the first trip and Odiase hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to three with less than 30 seconds on the clock.
They could not, however, get that final stop. Virginia’s Jerome kicked the ball out to the team’s most NBA ready talent, De’Andre Hunter, who hit the critical shot of the game from beyond the arc. Hunter’s three would ultimately send the game into overtime when Tech failed to score on their final possession.
Overtime appeared promising for the Red Raiders when Mooney came out with five points in the first two minutes, including another three-pointer to give Tech the lead. But Virginia’s defense tightened up and proved impenetrable the rest of the way. Tech went nearly three minutes without a point in overtime and they watched the Cavs build an insurmountable lead.
Hunter led the way for Virginia with 27 points in a gritty championship performance and he was followed by Kyle Guy with 24. The Cavs were a perfect 12-for-12 from the free-throw line in the overtime period to close out their first title in school history. The Red Raiders did not make it to the free throw line in the final five minutes.
For Virginia basketball, it was complete vindication. The program has turned into one of the country’s best under Coach Tony Bennett, but have also acquired an undesired reputation for failure in the NCAA Tournament.
Just over a year ago, the Cavs were the number one overall seed in the nation entering March Madness before becoming the only top seed in history to lose to a 16-seed in the opening round. But Virginia did not just lose to the UMBC Retrievers, they were dismantled. A team that did not lose a game in the nation’s best conference watched in stunned disbelief as they became the answer to a trivia question.
But all of the credit in the world goes to the class and resilience of Bennett and his team. After arguably the single most embarrassing loss in the history of sports, Virginia came out in 2019 and won over 30 games once more to earn another top seed.
During the first round on March 22, the Cavs found themselves trailing by six to Gardner-Webb, another 16-seed. Whatever Bennett said to his team during half time of that game likely fueled the rest of the run we just witnessed.
Still, it was not exactly an easy road. The Cavs saw their season dwindling in the waning seconds of an Elite Eight matchup against Purdue and a Final Four matchup against Auburn on Saturday. On each occasion, Virginia trailed by two points with one last chance on offense.
Against Purdue, the Cavs were able to think fast after recovering the ball in the backcourt and converting a jump shot to tie the game and reach overtime. In Saturday’s win over Auburn, Kyle Guy was fouled shooting a three-pointer with less than a second left. He went on to make all three shots to finalize a 1-point victory in regulation.
Then, of course, the Red Raiders nearly got the best of the Cavs down the stretch on Monday. But on each occasion throughout the tournament, this Virginia team came through with a big shot to save the day when they needed it most and erased the stigma surrounding their program in March.