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For the Virginia Cavaliers and on the Corner, joy came in the morning

How an incredulous city partied into the night.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Purdue vs Virginia Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, a night that was 35 torturous, gut-wrenching, angst-filled, frustrating years in the making, when “Next Year” finally arrived and the breaks finally went the Virginia Cavaliers’ way and the Hoos didn’t leave the floor on the wrong end of another instant classic, the catharsis became all too real at the intersection of 14th and University in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but UVA won. If you were in Charlottesville at 11:07 p.m. on Saturday night, you heard it and felt it.

The sidewalk outside of Boylan Heights was impassible to foot traffic some 20 minutes after the game, but before Charlottesville police blocked off 14th between University and Wertland. Those lucky few drivers who were able to get through before the roadblock, before hundreds of people rushed into the street, before people sang screamed “Africa” and “Ride Wit Me” and other songs, took pictures and gawked at what was quickly becoming of a classic college town nightlife district. Before we knew it, cops were in the crosswalk at the bottom of the hill with a car staged at the top so that the entire block could be ours.

This wasn’t just your garden variety win to advance to college basketball’s biggest stage for the first time in generations. The sequence of events—the double-digit deficit in the first half, the fact that Purdue’s offensive rebound in the final 20 seconds of regulation didn’t end the season, that they missed that one free throw, The Heave, The Shot, all of it—made this the kind of victory that frees you to sing a little louder and dance a little looser than you would otherwise be inclined.

When you’re in the mosh pit, jumping up and down in the middle of the street with complete strangers and yelling and losing your voice and wondering how in the hell any of this is even happening, it has to make you a bit more appreciative of how they got here.

Because, really, it had to happen this way.

It had to be that series of small miracles, after surviving the first year A.U. (after UMBC), after the collapse in Chicago three years ago, after wondering what could have been in 2015 and 2014, after hiring this young guy from Washington State exactly 10 years ago known for his claustrophobia-inducing defense, calm offense, and calmer demeanor.

The joy first came late at night and extended well into the early morning hours, with people in formal wear at The White Spot who knew the result incredulously watched The Shot for the first time: “That’s how it happened?!” But the cars weren’t honking anymore, the crowdsurfing bride and most everyone else was gone, people weren’t high-fiving each other and hugging and shouting “let’s f—ing go!” and “Final f—ing Four!”.

By 3 a.m., the only reminder of the spellbinding pandemonium was plenty of shattered Wahoo cups and flattened Natty Light cans outside Boylan, as well as an exhilaration that lingered in the subdued air, one that this school and this city so desperately wanted. They — and we — will never forget it.