De Andre Hunter

USA Today

Epic Title Game

Everyone wearing Cavaliers gear is an assassin.

April 09, 2019 - 9:23 am

Hey, remember when everyone said last night’s game would suck? Remember when they said it would be boring? If that was your take yesterday, you can do one of two things today: apologize or just sit this one out. Because that wasn’t just a good game last night, that was a great game.

Two great coaches with great teams who absolutely battled their asses off. Oh, and about that allegedly ugly battle where the first team to 60 or even 50 would win?

Virginia 85
Texas Tech 77

The highest scoring national title game in nearly two decades. That game was so good, that one overtime didn’t feel like enough. I didn’t want it to end. But there were a bunch of times where it looked like it was over.

Like when Virginia went into halftime with a last-second three and then came out on a 6-0 run that gave them a nine point lead. With the way Tony Bennett’s crew defends, a nine point lead might as well be a nineteen point lead. But even if it was a nineteen point lead, it wouldn’t have mattered to Texas Tech.

That’s how good the Red Raiders are and how hard they go. They were down 8 with less than six minutes to go. Everyone had given up on them and they came back from the dead once again. They didn’t just come back, they tied it and then had a three point lead with less than 20 seconds left. And that’s when De’Andre Hunter did this.

I said it yesterday, this matchup might not have the household names like Zion, but there would be NBA players on the floor last night. And there were. And there was a man. De’Andre Hunter is a man. Dude is an alpha. A monster. 

1-8 in the first half, but 22 points in the second half and overtime. He had been struggling offensively at times during the tournament and then he broke out in a huge way when he was needed most.

And it wasn’t just about what he did on offense, he was an absolute monster on defense as well, making every possession a battle for Jarrett Culver. He went legend on the offensive end last night, on the biggest stage in the sport; but to do that, and then to lock up Culver on the end makes if even more impressive. Culver is a likely lottery pick and Hunter was all over him every time. And he still had the energy and the ice to make that shot?

I said yesterday that Kyle Guy has ice cubes in his veins, so does Hunter. And Ty Jerome. And Tony Bennett. Everyone wearing Cavaliers gear is an assassin.

Check out what they did in their last few games:

Down by three against Purdue with five seconds left

Down by four against Auburn with 10 seconds left

Down by three against Texas Tech with twelve seconds left

And they won every single time. Winning just one of those games would be impressive, winning all three? Ridiculous. No wonder they were called a “team of destiny.” And they were called that by Chris Beard after the game and he’s right.

That’s the best way to describe a team that has done that against Purdue, Auburn, and Texas Tech. Do that once, it’s amazing. Do it twice, it’s freaky. Do it three times, and its destiny. And that’s not luck, that’s not even skill, that’s just who Virginia is.

And it starts with their head coach, Tony Bennett. I haven’t seen a guy that calm on the sideline in a national championship game since Jay Wright said “bang” as Nova’s game-winner fell. Tony Bennett looked like he was at a PTA meeting, not the NCAA title game.

He was so calm throughout and so was his team. Even when it looked like it might be slipping away, they remained clutch. And why? Because last night wasn’t pressure. Kyle Guy needing to make three straight free throws against Auburn wasn’t pressure. They’d already been through far worse.

In case you forgot, and I doubt you did, this is the same team that lost to UMBC. They became the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA history. And they didn’t just lose to UMBC, they got curb-stomped by UMBC. They lost by 20. That was arguably one of the most humbling and humiliating losses in the history of college basketball, if not the history of sports.

And however bad you think it was, it was worse. As Laurel Bennett, Tony’s wife, told Matt Norlander: "The team got these death threats. They did take a police escort back to the hotel, they came in through a side door, a policeman went up with each of the guys to their rooms. It was ridiculous and it made it feel so much worse to them, I think."

Yes, it was ridiculous. And yes, it was so much worse. And how did they respond? By running to the roar. That was one of the mantras for this year. Run to the roar. Don’t avoid what happened. Learn from it. Grow from it.  Run to it.

And that’s how you get from the worst, most humbling loss ever to the best moment ever in one year. That’s how you get from the UMBC jokes to a moment like last night.

The word “deserve” gets thrown around a lot and both teams last night deserved a national championship. They were both that good. But it’s nearly impossible to complain about Virginia winning it all. 

Remember when they trailed Gardner-Webb and they might repeat the worst kind of history? Remember when people said Tony Bennett is a nice guy and a good coach, but his style doesn’t work in the tournament? Turns out his style does work in the tournament. They just made the best kind of history.

Run to the freaking roar. And run to a national championship. And the alleged worst title game ever turned out to be one of the best. Which I why I said yesterday, it may not be the matchup everyone or even anyone wanted, but it’s a damn good matchup and you know it’s going to be a good game. And it sure as hell was.