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Calm, Cool and Collected: De'Andre Hunter leads Virginia to its First Championship

04/09/2019, 1:15am CDT
By Daniel House

With his team trailing by three points with 12 seconds remaining in regulation, Virginia guard De’Andre Hunter elevated and the ball smoothly jumped over the hand of Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver. It felt like time stopped as the basketball swirled through the air. When the 3-pointer hit the bottom of the net, a large exhale let out across the world. It was the punch that brought a heavyweight fight into overtime and eventually led Virginia to a championship. 

The moment almost didn't happen. A special adjustment fueled one of the greatest moments in March Madness history as Virginia guard Ty Jerome dished to Hunter in the corner. 

“We actually changed the play from the first time to the second time,” Hunter said, following Virginia’s 85-77 victory. “Mamadi usually pops on that play, but he rolled and we knew they were going to help on the weak side and Ty is a great point guard and he kicked it to the corner and I had my hands ready. When I shot it, it felt good and it was on line and it went in."

The shot put an end to Texas Tech’s 12-for-16 shooting streak that pulled them ahead in the final seconds. Every time Virginia needed a big shot in the second half, they turned to Hunter. In overtime, Hunter faded to the corner and found the ball in his hands again. With a defender in his face, he knocked down another clutch shot and gave his team a lead they never relinquished. 

On the other end of the court, Hunter’s defense locked down Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver. The Red Raider’s leading scorer had just 15 points on 5-for-22 shooting. He struggled all night with Hunter’s length and quickness on the defensive end of the court. 

“Wow, 5 of 22. I didn't realize it was that,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said after the game. “He's such a talented player…we really wanted to have that matchup. And we wanted to switch the ball screens. Then we're a little worried because he is so good, but we just tried to make it happen as much as possible, and Dre made him work to get shots.”

On the other end, the passing by Virginia guard Ty Jerome helped everything tick for Virginia. He had eight assists, including a dish that set up Hunter’s game-tying 3-pointer. Jerome’s touch, balance and natural passing ability opened up shots for everyone on the floor. He also had several incredibly difficult finishes through contact. The Cavaliers’ trio of Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome dominated stretches of the game. Guy had 24 points, including four three-pointers on 8-for-15 shooting. 

“I know [Kyle is] a young man of faith and he has great confidence in himself, and he's honest, and he's just got it,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “He did it again and made big shots, and I've seen that from -- you look at him, and he's not the most physical guy, but it's inside. Ty has that in him, and so does Kyle.”

Texas Tech used 3-point shooting of its own to remain within striking distance. Guard Brandone Francis knocked down three triples to go along with 17 points. The Red Raiders’ bench scored 29 points and it lifted them out of scoring ruts. They just couldn’t match the sharp shooting and dynamic play-making ability of Virginia’s weapons. 

Two teams that exuded toughness traded punches the entire night. Every shot put up was contested and earned. When the buzzer went off, the confetti fell on the court and emotions ran wild. The ball rested in the arms of star De’Andre Hunter as the clock struck zero. The hero of the night tossed the ball into the Minneapolis air, putting a bow on one of the most memorable finishes in college basketball. 

It was a step outside character for the normally calm, cool and collected Virginia guard. After making two of the biggest shots and scoring 17 second half points, Hunter was ready to let his hair down. 

“I’m really passionate about the game, but I’m not a screamer, I’m not a yeller and I just play my game and dominate,” Hunter said in the locker room. “That’s just something I always wanted to do. Just throw the ball in the air like guys do all the time. I wanted the ball and I just wanted to throw it up.”

Virginia fans instantly celebrated the program’s first National Championship and Texas Tech suffered the heartbreak of defeat. The Cavaliers battle cry, “Good Old Song” rang throughout the 72,000-seat venue. Tears flowed, hugs were shared and legendary college basketball coach Dick Bennett watched his son win a championship. It was the moment where a season of hard work came down to one night, one moment and two clutch shots. 

When all of the chaos ended, “One Shining Moment” played on the massive U.S. Bank Stadium video boards. After winning the national title, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett stood on the court and beamed from ear-to-ear. Just 388 days after being ousted by 16-seed UMBC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, this was the moment where all of the blood, sweat and tears created a life-long memory. 

“I told our guys in the locker room, I said put your arms around each other, take a look at every guy in here, look at each other. Promise me you will remain humble and thankful for this,” Bennett said after the game. “Don't let this change you. It doesn't have to. We'll have memories. We'll be at each other's weddings -- or I'll be at their weddings.”

The 49-year-old head coach knows what it took to get here and he doesn’t want his players to ever forget it.

“Stay humble and stay thankful. It's a great story. That's probably the best way I can end this,” Bennett said. “It's a great story.”
 

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