MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Now that, Virginia, is the way to close out a season.
Led by De’Andre Hunter and his NBA-ready game, the Cavaliers turned themselves into national champions Monday night, holding off tenacious, ferocious Texas Tech for an 85-77 overtime win — a scintillating victory that came 388 days after a crushing setback that might have sunk a lesser team for years.
But Virginia was better than that.
A season after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 — the one thing that had never happened in a tournament where anything can — the Cavaliers watched a 10-point lead turn into a 3-point deficit before Hunter came to the rescue. The sophomore made the game-tying 3 with 12.1 seconds left in regulation, then made another with just over two minutes left in the extra period to give the Cavs the lead for good.
After going scoreless for the first 18 1/2 minutes, Hunter finished with a career-high 27 points, and if he leaves as a lottery pick — well, what a way to go out.
He helped the Cavs bring home the first NCAA title for a program with a colorful, star-crossed and, now, very winning history.
Nothing came easily — appropriate given where Virginia has been over the last year, with each of its 35 wins, and each of the team’s scant three losses, all punctuated by the reminder that only the end result would serve as the ultimate report card on whether the Cavs had erased the baggage of last year.
Hunter’s key 3 gave Virginia a 75-73 lead, and after the teams traded possessions, Tech guard Davide Moretti scrambled after a loose ball heading onto Virginia’s end of the court. It appeared it would be Texas Tech ball, but a replay showed Moretti’s pinkie finger had barely scraped the ball. Virginia got possession, and worked the ball into Ty Jerome, who got fouled and made two free throws.
Brandone Francis missed a 3 on the other end, and Virginia pulled away — the first time this game felt remotely comfortable, even after Kyle Guy, the free-throw-shooting hero of Saturday night’s win over Auburn, made a 3 to give the Cavs a 10-point lead with 10:22 left in regulation.
Guy’s not Virginia’s only clutch free-throw shooter, by the way. The Cavs went 12 for 12 from the line in overtime to ice this game.