(Reuters) - Kris Jenkins buried a buzzer-beating three-pointer to lift Villanova to a thrilling 77-74 upset victory over North Carolina in the U.S. college basketball championship game in Houston on Monday.
It was a fitting end to a springtime single-elimination competition known affectionately as ‘March Madness’ for its regular upsets and last-second victories.
Jenkins’ jump shot from distance splashed through the hoop with no time left on the clock, five seconds after Marcus Paige had rattled in an off-balance heave from outside the arc for the Tar Heels to tie the NCAA Final at 74-74.
The victory gave the Philadelphia-area university a second national title, adding to a 1985 upset victory over Georgetown.
Back-up guard Phil Booth led the winners with 20 points, hitting six-of-seven shots with backcourt mate Ryan Arcidiacono adding 16. Paige led North Carolina with 21 points with his fellow guard Joel Berry scoring 20.
Top seeds North Carolina, a double-digit winner in each of their five games en route to the final, held a 39-34 halftime lead in pursuit of a sixth title but the Wildcats battled back, going on a 33-16 run to forge a 10-point lead with 5:29 left.
Second seeds Villanova were denied a stroll to the finish by the desperate Tar Heels, whose fan section featured more than 50 former players, including Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, who as a freshman hit the winning shot in their 1982 title victory.
Using superior size to shut down access to the hoop, North Carolina (33-7) staged a fierce comeback, capped by Paige’s desperation three-pointer that seemed likely to send the game to overtime.
However, senior guard Arcidiacono raced down the court and shoveled a pass to an open Jenkins, who pulled the trigger on a classic game-winner that sent ecstatic Villanova (35-5) players into a heap on the floor as confetti rained down.
After Paige’s electric, game-tying three-pointer, Villanova coach Jay Wright called time to set up their final play.
“We put it in Arch’s hands,” Wright said. “It’s Arch’s job to make a decision. Arch made the perfect pass and Kris Jenkins lives for that moment.”
Jenkins, nicknamed the Big Smooth, said: “I think every shot is going in. So that one was no different.”
Arcidiacono, named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, said: “It’s an unbelievable way to go out. That’s just something that everyone dreams about.”
Teary-eyed North Carolina coach Roy Williams said: “I’ve been a head coach for 28 years and the worst thing is, with a loss like this I feel so inadequate because I don’t know how to make it better.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by John O'Brien