The gritty defense of Virginia and Texas Tech was still evident — but it did not suffocate the game
It started badly.
The first shot was an air ball.
The second was a blown layup.
The third failed to hit to hit the rim as the shot clock went off.
At the first timeout it the score was 3-2.
This is what was feared: That the NCAA men’s basketball championship game between Virginia and Texas Tech would become an unwatchable collision of the two best defensive teams in the country.
Instead the opposite happened.
It became a pulsating contest, punctuated by some outstanding individual offensive performances. The gritty defense of each team was still evident — but it did not suffocate the game.
Virginia prevailed in overtime, 85-77, getting several clutch plays from its top player, De’Andre Hunter. Hunter struggled in the first half, but in the most important times, he came through.
He hit a corner 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime. Then he hit another big 3-pointer to put Virginia head to stay, 75-73.
The Cavaliers began as a No. 1 seed, but struggled throughout the tournament, escaping with last-second victories over Purdue and Auburn. Their slow pace of play at times seemed like a detriment. It was not last night.
Texas Tech hung around determinedly. Virginia had a 10-point lead in the first half and a 9-point lead in the second, but both times Texas Tech fought back into ties.
The deficits were the result of the struggles of Tech’s best offensive players, Jarrett Culver (15 points on 5-for-22 shooting) and Matt Mooney (10 points). Instead, bench players Brandone Francis (17 points) and Kyler Edwards (12 points) led the comebacks.
It set the stage for a great finish and nearly an improbable championship for Texas Tech, a school with no basketball tradition that has become a contender behind the defensive philosophy of coach Chris Beard.
Texas Tech’s great shot blocker Tariq Owens played despite a sprained ankle and was not a factor, fouling out in the second half.
For Virginia, it was the ultimate redemption after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed (Maryland Baltimore County) in last year’s tournament.
The Cavaliers’ best players all had their moments as Hunter scored 27 points, Kyle Guy 24 points, and Ty Jerome 16. Against the normally withering Texas Tech defense, Virginia connected on 45.8 percent of its 3-pointers. The Cavaliers were also outstanding at the free throw line, making 20 of 23, including 14 straight in overtime.
Tech’s defense still gave Virginia problems as the Cavaliers found themselves frequently trying to find a good shot as the shot clock neared zero. That could have adversely affected them but, in this game, there were more possessions than a usual Virginia game and it gave the Cavaliers enough chances to prevail.