HOUSTON — Ryan Arcidiacono streaked over to Rollie Massimino, wrapped his arms around the former Villanova coach’s waist and delivered a hug as violent as it was beautiful. Arcidiacono, a senior guard, pulled the 81-year-old coach more than a foot off the ground, kissed him atop his commemorative NCAA championship hat and whispered into his ear: “I love you, coach.”
The moment encapsulated a collision of the ages, the Perfect Game of 1985 meeting the Perfect Ending of 2016. Villanova’s 77–74 victory over North Carolina in the national championship game on Monday night will be prominently featured in countless bar debates for years to come. Was it the best title game ever? Was it the best championship game finish? Was it the greatest buzzer-beater in college basketball history? At the very least, it’s in the conversation for all of those things.
But at the tight-knit Philadelphia school where basketball defines the university’s image and athletic culture, Monday night’s improbable ending will forever be paired with the incredible upset by the 1985 team, a No. 8 seed which toppled No. 1 Georgetown. Thirty-one years later, on Monday night, the No. 2 seeded Wildcats one-upped No. 1 North Carolina’s late-game theatrics to deliver this new Perfect Ending.
Junior forward Kris Jenkins delivered one of the NCAA tournament's definitive Shining Moments when he took a shovel pass from Arcidiacono and nailed a 26-foot buzzer beater that left his hand with .4 seconds remaining. It goes down as the first buzzer-beating three-pointer in NCAA championship game history. That will put Jenkins in the rare clutch air of North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Charles, who dunked home Dereck Whittenburg's 30-foot air ball to win the 1983 NCAA title.
“In a national championship game, to hit a shot at the buzzer, I mean, I haven’t seen many better than that,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said of Jenkins.
What made Jenkins’s shot so remarkable is that it somehow managed to top the double-clutch shot from North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, who tied the game with 4.7 seconds remaining. Paige’s three-pointer will redefine the standards of difficulty for late-game heroics. He leapt in the air on the right wing, moved the ball around in the air to avoid an onrushing Arcidiacono, scissored his legs and shot the ball over Villanova’s Mikal Bridges while falling down. The shot going in was so remarkable that dozens of fans hurled orange seat cushions in the air, as if the basketball gods were crying from the heavens in disbelief.
That set up the heroics of Jenkins, the junior forward who North Carolina inexplicably left open. Jenkins inbounded the ball on the opposite baseline and no Tar Heel ever picked him up. No one knew it better than Jenkins, who trailed Arcidiacono up the floor screaming, “Arch! Arch! Arch!” Jenkins’s shot led to another cascade of orange seat cushions and perhaps changed the world order of historic Villanova victories. “This one is No. 1,” Massimino said. “We’re No. 2.”
Massimino, of course, was the coach when Villanova pulled off the seminal title-game upset in NCAA tourney history over Georgetown. It’s remembered as the Perfect Game because the Wildcats shot 78%, and they still remain the lowest seed to ever win the tournament.
The current Villanova players know all about the '85 team. In the foyer of their practice facility there’s a screen where anyone can push a button and see highlights from that fateful night. The song “One Shining Moment” plays in the background as Ed Pinckney runs the floor, Harold Jensen doesn't miss a shot and Dwayne McClain slashes the lane. “Coach is adamant guys understand the history of Villanova basketball,” Wildcats assistant coach Baker Dunleavy said. “They’ve seen those highlights a bunch. They know the guys who played in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. That’s something we take a ton of pride in.”
That pride became reciprocal on Monday night. Nine of the members from that 1985 Villanova team sat in Section 109. They cheered on improbable hero Phil Booth, a reserve guard who scored 20 points off the bench. They witnessed Arcidiacono join Pinckney as the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. And they hugged and hollered when Jenkins’s shot went in. “I almost jumped through the roof,” Massimino said.
The 1985 Wildcats joined the party on the floor after Jenkins’s heroics, two sun-kissed teams exchanging hugs as they waded through confetti. Pinckney wrapped his arms around his old coach, putting to life the trendy Nova T-Shirt spotted around Houston all week: “I Wanna Party Like It’s 1985.” Pinckney smiled at history repeating itself. “This is a beautiful thing to be a part of,” he said. “When we get to the Royal Sonesta Hotel, we’re all going to go crazy.”
It didn’t take long for Wright to find Massimino in the postgame celebration. They walked together on the court to do an interview with former Georgetown coach John Thompson on Westwood One, a fitting nod to the past. Wright then walked Massimino back across the court, one arm of a tailored pin-striped suit plastered over the shoulder of another tailored pin-striped suit. Wright escorted Massimino to the party at the base of the ladder where the Wildcats gathered to wait their turn to cut down the nets. “Somebody has to give you the opportunity,” Wright said of his former boss. “Then they have to spend the time with you to reach you. He did that for me. To share this with him, our Villanova people love him. He’s a magical figure.”
This victory now gives Wright the same status. One historic shot now gives Villanova two shining moments. The biggest upset on Monday night may be that Villanova managed to match its own resplendent history.