HOUSTON -- It might be April, but March Madness prevailed to the very last second of the NCAA Tournament.
Villanova junior guard Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Wildcats to a thrilling 77-74 victory over North Carolina in the national championship game Monday night at NRG Stadium.
Jenkins, along with Villanova guards Phil Booth and Ryan Arcidiacono, danced in the spotlight and became stars to shine with Rollie Massimino and Rocky Balboa in the Philadelphia galaxy.
Booth filled up the basket in the second half, finishing with 20 points. Even so, the Wildcats were facing the prospect of overtime with 4.7 seconds left until Arcidiacono raced the ball 70 feet and dished to Jenkins for one last chance to win it.
"We knew what play we were going to at the end of the game, because we work on it every single day in practice," Arcidiacono said. "I wanted to be aggressive. If I could get a shot, I was going to shoot it. But I heard someone screaming in the back of my head. It was Kris. I just gave it to him, and he let it go with confidence."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he knew by Jenkins' followthrough on the last shot that it was probably going in the basket.
"The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is so small," Williams said. "The difference in your feelings is so large. But that's the NCAA Tournament. That's college basketball."
Moments earlier, North Carolina guard Marcus Paige hit a leaning 3-pointer from the right sideline to tie it at 74.
Arcidiacono scored 16, Jenkins had 14, and Josh Hart added 12 points and eight rebounds for Villanova (35-5).
Arcidiacono, who hit a combined 11 of 15 shots from the floor in the last two games, was selected the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
Paige compiled 21 points, six assists and five rebounds. Joel Berry added 20 for North Carolina (33-7), and Brice Johnson had 14 points and eight boards.
"You know, just that feeling of walking off the court, feeling the confetti fall, but it's not for you," Berry said. "It's a horrible feeling."
Jenkins' heroics meant that Villanova joined Massimino's 1985 Wildcats in grasping the school's second national championship. Massimino was in attendance Monday, but the team he saw was more dominant than the Cinderella eighth-seeded Villanova squad that won the tournament 31 years ago.
These Wildcats crushed opponents by an average of 24 points per game to get to the final, then asserted control over North Carolina in the second half before a final charge by the Tar Heels. North Carolina erased a 10-point deficit in the last five minutes to set up Paige's tying shot.
"The plays they made down the stretch, when they got down at the end, they executed everything perfectly," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "(Villanova forward) Daniel Ochefu goes for that steal, and Marcus Paige has the intelligence to not go by him and shoot a 2, to pull up and hit a 3. That was just great college basketball. Two great teams in a national championship game."
Villanova took its first lead of the second half after an 8-1 surge that erased a five-point Tar Heels edge. Booth went into the lane to hit a shot that put Villanova ahead 46-44 with 13:28 left.
Paige went down the baseline for a basket that broke a three-minute field-goal drought and tied it at 46.
Villanova, however, kept the momentum and used a 7-0 run to lead 53-46 when Arcidiacono hit a jumper with 9:53 left.
Berry had 15 first-half points, and both he and Justin Jackson were 3-for-3 from beyond the arc as the Tar Heels took a 39-34 lead into halftime.
North Carolina scored 50 points in the paint in its semifinal win over Syracuse, but the Tar Heels did their damage from 3-point range in the first half against Villanova.
Jackson and Berry led the way as North Carolina hit seven of nine from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
The Tar Heels and Wildcats punched and countered for the entirety of the first half, which featured eight lead changes and six ties.
Villanova surged ahead by five when Booth hit a 3-pointer followed by Ochefu's dunk with 10:09 left before the break.
However, North Carolina answered with the first significant run of the game, outscoring Villanova 13-4 during the next five minutes. Jackson, Paige and Berry hit treys on three consecutive trips down the floor.
The Tar Heels also put together a 9-2 run late in the half. Jackson's third 3-pointer capped it and gave North Carolina a 39-32 lead with 38 seconds left before the break.
The Tar Heels appeared poised to add to that lead on a fastbreak, but Hart blocked a Jackson layup, and Arcidiacono grabbed the deflected ball.
Booth hit a jumper at the buzzer to cut North Carolina's lead to five at halftime.
NOTES: Villanova defeated North Carolina on its way to the 1985 national championship. The eighth-seeded Wildcats beat the second-seeded Tar Heels 56-44 in the Mideast Region final to earn a berth in the Final Four. ... Villanova was playing in a national championship game for the second time on the same city block in Houston, but in different buildings. The Wildcats lost to UCLA in the 1971 championship game in the Astrodome, which still stands next door to NRG Stadium. ... North Carolina and Villanova met in the national championship game for the first time. Previously, the Tar Heels had a 5-1 record against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament, including North Carolina victories in every round leading up to the national title game. ... North Carolina played in the championship game for the 10th time, the fourth highest total behind UCLA (13), Kentucky (12) and Duke (11). The Tar Heels now hold a 5-5 record in NCAA finals.