One year after a historic first-round loss at the hands of No. 16 seed UMBC, the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers completed their redemption run with their first national title in program history. A career-high 27 point performance and lockdown defense from De'Andre Hunter led Tony Bennett's Cavaliers to an 85–77 victory on Monday night in an overtime thriller in Minneapolis.
"Forget last year, this is everything you dream of since you're a little kid," Virginia point guard Ty Jerome said after the win. "I'm not even thinking about UMBC right now. I'm just thinking this is a dream come true, and it's even more than that because you never even imagine you'll be able to spend a year with people you actually love, your teammates and your coaches. Not a lot of people get along like we do, so to share this moment with them is unbelievable."
The victory was hard fought for the 'Hoos. Texas Tech won the tip but it was Virginia who scored first, getting on the board two minutes into the championship clash with a lay-in from junior forward Mamadi Diakite on a sneaky bounce pass from Jerome.
There were just five combined points between the two teams at the under 16 timeout but the 13–3 run that followed for the Cavaliers brought Virginia ahead by six–marking the Red Raiders their biggest deficit of the tournament–and eventually to nine.
Texas Tech's first field goal of the game came more than seven and a half minutes into the first half on a three-point jumper from sophomore guard Davide Moretti. The Red Raiders followed back-to-back threes from Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards with a third three–Francis's second–got their offense rolling as Texas Tech knocked in nine points in a two-minute span to start a 12–2 run.
The top-two draft prospects on the floor–Virginia's De'Andre Hunter and Culver–went 1-of-14 combined through the half. Hunter sunk his first field goal with 1:26 on the clock while Culver's 0-for-6 mark matched his first half performance against Michigan State. Culver had just one half without a made basket all season entering the Final Four.
A deep three from the top of the key by Jerome followed Hunter's floater and pushed the Cavaliers in front going into the break, 32–29.
Shooting guard Kyle Guy was the only player on the floor with double-digit points at halftime, pouring in 10 for Virginia on 4-of-7 shooting while Jerome followed with eight and a team-high five rebounds and four assists. Moretti and Francis led Texas Tech with eight each.
Guy started things off in the second, sinking a three from the wing to extend Virginia's lead to six. After a bit of back and forth on the floor, Culver finally scored from the field for Texas Tech with 15 minutes left in regulation, sandwiching two layups on subsequent possessions around a Kyle Guy floater.
The two teams kicked out to the perimeter, trading threes as Texas Tech's Edwards' sunk his second trey of the night before Hunter his first from deep for Virginia. Francis capped off the exchange with his third for the Red Raiders. Jerome hit a jumper on the following possession before kicking the next out to Hunter again on the rim.
Jerome came up big again for the Cavaliers, connecting with Guy at the corner for another three to extend Virginia's lead to 10. The 6'5" junior from New Rochelle continued making major moves with a contested jumper on the next play. Jerome finished the game with 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting for the Cavaliers to go with nine assists and eight rebounds.
Hunter was the next Cavalier to find net through contact and getting the call on the way. Edwards responded for the Red Raiders, sparking an 8–0 run that cut away at Virginia's lead. Saturday night's Final Four hero Matt Mooney sunk a shot from deep on the next play and senior center Norense Odiase followed to tie the game for the first time since the first half, 59–59.
The two exchanged leads as the excitement built in the final two minutes of March Madness. Culver came in clutch for Texas Tech, retaking the lead with a strong-side layup with 35 seconds on the clock.
Hunter tied it up with a three and Culver bricked his own shot from deep with five seconds in regulation.
Hunter nabbed the rebound but turned it over as Guy signaled for a timeout for Virginia that went uncalled by officials, giving the ball back to the Red Raiders. Culver caught the inbound with one second to play on the left baseline and Virginia's Braxton Key blocked the turnaround shot to send the two title contenders to overtime.
Texas Tech started off strong and Mooney extended their lead to three.
The Cavaliers responded with a pair of points from the line for Guy and another three for Hunter–his fourth of the night.
After three lead changes in the first four minutes of overtime, Virginia commanded the final 60 seconds of the 2019 NCAA tournament title game to take the win. Key closed the contest out with a dunk and a pair of free throws.
Guy finished with 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting including four from three.
After the game, Virginia coach Tony Bennett spoke on the way his team handled last year's loss and turned it into the biggest victory of all.
"To see them come either in as young men or boys and grow into men, this season and – I'll mention what happened last year, that can only mature you," Bennett said after the win. "I don't know of anything else that would allow these guys to be able to handle this situation, to play through stuff and to have a perspective and a poise and resiliency unless they went through something that hard."
Francis lead Texas Tech in the loss with 17 while Culver and Moretti dropped 15 each. Culver went just 5-of-22 from the field and 0-of-6 from three.