- Both sides' stars came out on an unfamiliar stage, but Virginia's shooters helped the Cavaliers take care of business and make history.
1. This was inarguably a very entertaining game. The talk coming into the matchup was that this would be unwatchable, at least aesthetically. It was certainly not. For the most part, those concerns were mitigated by a run of play that was exciting, if tense. It felt like the game took forever to actually get started. After an extended feel-out period where basically nobody scored, all the offense unspooled at once going into the first half under-eight timeout, and the pace picked up from there. There were a lot of made threes, some impressive shot-making by both sides, and enough back-and-forth to assert that this, certainly, was basketball. Texas Tech rallied late and tied the game with 3:28 on the clock, and the final minutes were gripping, including a final sequence that included a go-ahead bucket from Jarrett Culver, two clutch free throws from Norense Odiase, a De’Andre Hunter three that tied the game, a Virginia offensive rebound and turnover with one second left, and Braxton Key blocking Culver’s shot to send it to overtime.
When we got there, there was clutch shot-making by Matt Mooney and De’Andre Hunter, a pivotal block by Mamadi Diakite on Culver, and the breaks careening in Virginia’s favor in the final two minutes. It became clear before long which way this was headed, and by the end of it, objectively, it didn’t really matter how we got there. Moral of the story: Epic games of basketball are usually fun.
2. The De’Andre Hunter/Jarrett Culver battle proved gripping. Both players were total duds in the first half (due in part to their respective defensive efforts on one another), then stepped up down the stretch. In the end, it was Hunter’s impressive late-game display of outside shooting that saved Virginia, and he finished with 27 points and six rebounds on 4-of-5 three-point shooting. After an up-and-down tournament, Hunter came up huge when it mattered and did a terrific job of slowing Culver for most of the game. Hunter is not flashy and is not always this effective as a scorer, but he got the job done.
Per usual, Texas Tech really needed Culver, but probably didn’t get enough of him. While he finished with respectable numbers (15 points, nine rebounds, six assists) and scored a late go-ahead bucket, he shot just 5-of-22 from the field, didn’t make a single three and needed more than 25 minutes of regulation to convert his first field goal. Davide Moretti was huge, and Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards were outstanding off the bench, which mostly counteracted Culver’s drought and the fact that Matt Mooney mostly ran out of magic. There’s not much for the Red Raiders to hang their heads about here, noting that they were outplayed, but it was a tough way to go out.
3. At the end of the day, the better team won. It’s idealistically simple, but Virginia earned this one each step of the way. Nothing came especially easy for them in this tournament, but they were locked in from start to finish and got sublime performances from their primary players when it mattered. In addition to Hunter, Kyle Guy (24 points) and Ty Jerome (16 points, nine assists), to nobody’s surprise, were completely locked in. Virginia shot an impressive 45.8% from three-point range (11-for-24) against the best defense in the country, stayed composed through late-game adversity, and got the job done. Consider them redeemed.