...pretty much forever.
In a game filled with crucial plays and straight up onions on both sides, there are three plays in particular which will generate the most discussion around the water cooler and so much angst and hand-wringing among UNC fans in the days, months, and years to come.
Here is a look back at three of the most crucial plays of the game:
Justin Jackson's layup at the end of the first half
So UNC had started to flex its muscles near the end of the first half, flipping a six-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The lead was seven when Justin Jackson gets a lead pass off a Kennedy Meeks steal and looks headed for an easy transition basket to push it back to nine heading into the half. Instead there is contact with Nova's Josh Hart while Jackson is in the air and there is no call. Villanova comes down and Phil Booth hits a bucket right before halftime to cut the lead to five. That was a potential four-point swing in a game decided by three points.
Of course there is no guarantee that Jackson makes the free throws, or that Nova doesn't score at the end of the half anyway, but even at the time it felt like a huge momentum swing. Of course Jackson became a non-factor in the second half after nine crucial first half points. Jackson only attempted one shot in the final 20 minutes and missed two crucial free throws with a chance to cut into the Wildcat lead late in the second half. The other interesting fact is that Carolina had no transition points - ZERO - and Jackson was far from the only one to miss a transition hoop. In fact, on the heels of Jackson's free throw misses, Joel Berry missed a layup in transition. Villanova's ability to slow UNC in transition was a key component to the game. Still you have to wonder how the second half unfolds if UNC comes out for the second half with a 9-point lead and the ball.
Phil Booth's travel/free throws in the last minute
So watch this and you be the judge:
He walked and there was no foul pic.twitter.com/tgCDXSybm8— Ivan Corriher (@IWCorriher) April 5, 2016
Kris Jenkins may have hit the epic game-winner, but Phil Booth was the real hero of the game for the Wildcats. The sophomore who averaged 8 points a game coming in went off for a team-high 20 points on 6-7 shooting. After Carolina cut the lead to one on a Brice Johnson basket, the Tar Heels played great defense for 25 seconds of the shot clock. As Booth was trying to get up a shot, he appeared to travel twice and then was bailed out when he seemed to be out of control with a touch foul call on Isaiah Hicks. Booth made both foul shots to push the lead to three, leading to Marcus Paige's double-clutch heroics.
For those fans frustrated with the officiating throughout the game, this play was every grumble and complaint encapsulated in one package. Booth appeared to walk not once but twice (the slide and changing pivot feet) and Hicks the human foul magnet was called for a touch foul while in what appeared to be good defensive position. Plus once again Carolina played good defense until late in the shot clock before being called for a foul to salvage possession for Villanova. Again who knows how the game plays out if Carolina gets the ball back down one point instead of three. UNC would have had to have scored and Villanova would likely have had the ball back since the foul occurred with 35 seconds left, so there still may have been a chance for Jenkins-like heroics.
Kris Jenkins' game-winner
Marcus Paige had just made one of the biggest shots in NCAA Finals history...and it lasted all of 4.5 seconds. After Villanova called its final timeout after the Paige circus shot, the Wildcats set up for their last shot and Roy Williams had to make a choice: guard the inbounder or protect the rim. Williams chose to protect against the higher percentage shot by putting Brice Johnson, his best shot blocker, in the lane. The Tar Heels did a decent job in forcing Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova's best 3-point shooter, to dribble up the floor and use 3.5 of the remaining 4.5 seconds. Arcidiacono's dribble action placed himself in between Hicks and Jenkins, giving Jenkins the space he needed for a clean, set look at a 25-foot game winner and, well, you know the rest.
Coaching strategy out of the timeout will be hotly debated and #FireRoy Twitter, which had been silent during this postseason run, reared its head. There are a thousand things that could have happened there, and nearly all of them had to go right for Villanova to get the open look they did. And as had happened for pretty much the entire past three weeks, everything went right. Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville Observer has a great look at what happened on that last play. UNC couldn't give up a drive to the basket or risk a foul, so they played the odds and a 38% 3-point shooter made a 25-foot shot that is being offered as the biggest shot in NCAA Finals history. What are you gonna do?
Despite the outcome, this was an epic game. Villanova got up, UNC came back. UNC got up, Villanova came back. Villanova was up 10 with the ball with just under six minutes to play and UNC came back to tie it. The two best teams in the tournament played a game for the ages but these three plays will haunt UNC fans for ages as well.