It’s almost hard to believe that one year ago, Virginia fans were celebrating the Cavaliers’ improbable, dramatic, and incredible victory over Purdue in the NCAA tournament. The win not only sent the Cavaliers back to the Final Four for the first time since 1984, it effectively ended the stigma associated with Tony Bennett and the style of play he’s made (un)popular at Virginia.
And what a game it was.
Purdue’s Carsen Edwards scored 42 points on 14-for-25 shooting, putting forth one of the most impressive performances in NCAA tournament history. He made 10 threes against the Cavaliers — all seemingly from further and further back as the game progressed — and hit 28 total in four games played. Those 28 made threes set a new tournament record, beating the mark of 27 that Michigan’s Glen Rice set over six games in 1989.
The Cavaliers got a team effort to balance Edwards’s individual effort, needing the most incredible pass and one of the most incredible shots in tournament history to force overtime. In overtime, the Hoos battled back three times after falling behind before De’Andre Hunter scored the eventual game winner.
Looking back on my memories of the game is actually quite difficult as the emotion and intensity of the moment overwhelm everything.
Between the full game being loaded onto YouTube and the oh-so-wonderful replays taking place on CBS Sports Network over the last week, re-watching the game helped trigger some of the feelings of being in the arena.
This was the first Elite Eight I had ever covered, as I wasn’t on the beat in 2016 (thank goodness). The energy of the day was electric. Louisville, the host site, sits a mere 180 miles from Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana. That’s just under three hours driving, if you’re keeping track at home. Virginia? Charlottesville is about 500 miles away, or a seven-and-a-half hour drive.
Boy, could you feel that difference in the arena. Conservatively, it was about an 85/15 split in favor of the Boilermakers. As soon as the fans started filling in, you could sense this was practically a home game for the 3-seed Purdue. Don’t get me wrong, the Virginia fans in attendance were loud and excited, just dramatically outnumbered.
You’ve read our game recap and gone over the Zapruder-esque breakdown of THE PLAY. So instead of going over all of that again, I’m going to share a few moments — some of which are inconsequential details — that stand out in my memory from that game.
One thing is for certain: this was the best game I’ve ever seen live.
Kyle Guy’s Injury
See, I said some were inconsequential. This one definitely was not. I thought the Hoos were toast when Guy went down late in the first half after rolling his ankle. Sure, Guy hadn’t shot well to that point — just four points on 1-for-6 shooting and 0-for-3 from three — but everyone knows that Virginia is a better team with him on the court. It was just a freak accident on defense, but Guy’s pained screams sent panic through the Virginia fans in the arena.
Thankfully, Guy didn’t really miss any time (he came in for the final play of the first half and played every minute of the second half and overtime) and the injury served as a bit of a re-set. Guy scored 19 points in the second half and went 5-for-8 from three.
Edwards’s Banked Three
His 10th three of the game came with 1:10 left in regulation. Neither team had scored since Ty Jerome gave Virginia a narrow 67-66 lead with two free throws at the 3:09 mark, and the Boilermakers were looking for an answer. Hunter was on the bench, leaving first year Kihei Clark on the sharpshooting Edwards. He played phenomenal defense, but Edwards got the shot up from the right side of the arc with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.
My seat was lined up so that Edwards was shooting in-line with my exact angle looking at the basket. As soon as he let it go, I leaned over to CavsCorner’s Brad Franklin (who was sitting next to me) and said, “that’s way off.”
I wasn’t wrong, but it went in anyway as he kissed the shot off the backboard and through the cylinder for the two-point lead. At that point, it felt as if it was just their night.
It’s hard to remember any one moment from the final seconds of regulation. Everything was a blur. You know the deal. Clark tracked the ball down, looked off Jerome and Guy, and found Diakite with the most perfect pass.
The building was in complete pandemonium. The Virginia fans were losing it, the Purdue fans were in disbelief, and everyone was just trying to make sense of what was happening.
In all honesty, my first thought was “please tell me he got the shot off in time.” I couldn’t handle the idea of converting that only to not have it count (which is something I think about A LOT). Once it was clear it was good, it was all about settling in for another five minutes of mayhem.
A lot is made of THE PLAY, and rightfully so, but I think it gets lost how unbelievably close and stressful the overtime period was. In the title game against Texas Tech, Virginia was able to kind of put it away over the final couple minutes. Against Purdue it came down to the wire. Jerome’s floater in the lane to tie the game came as the shot clock buzzer sounded, and Virginia took a 74-73 lead after two free throws from Hunter with 1:43 to play.
Edwards’s final points of the game came with 42 seconds left and gave Purdue a 75-74 lead, putting the ball (literally) in Virginia’s court. Hunter, who had struggled in the game and exhibited massive frustration on both sides of the ball, ended up getting the game-winner with 28 seconds left as he bodied Grady Eifert down low.
It was a great call by the coaches and perfect execution by Hunter.
After a miss by Edwards, Guy calmly connected on two free throws to give the Hoos a tenuous 3-point lead with five seconds left. With the way Edwards was playing, three points may as well have been a tie, but the Purdue superstar heartbreakingly turned it over. Obviously it benefitted the Hoos, but seeing such an incredible individual performance end that way was tough.
Once again showing incredible faith in their first year point guard, the Cavaliers inbounded the ball to Clark. He was fouled, and went to the line to ice things.
While most of the attention was on Clark, I watched the other four on the court. Guy, Hunter, Diakite, and Jerome formed a little mini-huddle near mid-court. I don’t know if they were trying to not watch their teammate take the decisive free throws, but they certainly were not succeeding at it:
When Clark made the first, the first year turned around with the biggest grin on his face as his teammates reacted. Jerome jumped high in the air, unable to contain his excitement. This reaction from Jerome really put the cherry on top of the game sundae:
We’ve known Tony Bennett as consistently cool, calm, and collected. He’s competitive as all get out, and he wants to win at all times, but he’s always maintained this exterior that is enviable. Whether it was after a big win at Duke or following the loss to UMBC, you always got a well-spoken, rational Bennett.
That exterior broke — only for a moment — as Coach Bennett stood atop the ladder under the now-chopped net in the KFC Yum! Center.
That’s the face of getting the monkey off your back. Of making your first Final Four. Of finally tasting that success. It’s incredible to think that this was two days shy of Bennett’s 10-year anniversary of getting hired into the role at Virginia.
What were your favorite memories about this game? Leave a comment below!