Wahoo Nation Settles In
Noelle Anderson is the head of the Hoo Crew, the official UVA student fan group. She, her father and two friends had tickets to the game.
Anderson: We were the only UVA fans in our section.
Meanwhile, former Cavalier players were literally spread throughout the world. Polynice watched from home in Los Angeles, alongside his son, a budding basketball player in his own right. 2018 graduates Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, who are playing professionally in Australia and New Zealand, respectively, settled in to watch the game together via video chat, as they had for previous tournament games.
Similarly, Akil Mitchell, a 2014 graduate playing for a club in Boulazac, France, climbed aboard a bus in France with his teammates.
Mitchell: We had a game the same night that was like a six-hour bus ride. I was asleep on the bus, then woke up and watched it on my phone.
We were in the middle of nowhere on the highway, so the service wasn’t very good. It was pretty rocky at times.
Jeff Lamp was traveling, too. A 1981 graduate, he was a sharpshooting guard on UVA’s first Final Four team alongside Ralph Sampson. After finishing his pro career, he now works for the NBA Players Association.
Lamp: Between getting on and off the plane, I was pulling it up on the phone as best I could.
Joe Harris, another 2014 grad playing for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, had it easier; his team had a home game that night. He had 13 points and eight rebounds in a 110-96 victory over Boston. Afterward, he hustled back to his apartment to watch the game with friends visiting from out of town, arriving with about 14 minutes left in the first half.
Harris: To be honest, I don’t get too wound up during a lot of the games, but this game was different. I was standing in my apartment for the last five minutes of the game just like going nuts.
Jontel Evans, who starred at point guard for Bennett’s first teams before graduating in 2013, was hanging out at the Greene Turtle in his hometown of Hampton.
Evans: It’s a little sports bar I always go to. There was nobody in there. It was perfect for me. I could be as loud as I wanted, show my frustration, emotion.
The whole game I was on pins and needles. I kept replaying the Syracuse game in my mind from when we were up 16 and ended up losing. There was just a whole lot of emotion going through me.
Virginia fans who weren’t in Louisville found their own ways to watch.
Katie Couric (1979 alumna, well-known TV journalist): I wanted to go to a sports bar and watch the game with a bunch of millennials, but my husband talked me out of it and we watched the game in bed! I was freaking out the whole time.
Jenna Dagenhart (2013 alumna and as of Saturday, newlywed; most of the game took place during her wedding reception; her quotes are taken from a Facebook post): On the ride home with our friends and family, we anxiously watched on different cellphones with spotty service on Virginia country roads. [A friend] was calling out live score updates that another UVA mom was texting her.
Duel in Louisville
As the game unfolded, Purdue’s All-America guard, Carsen Edwards, became the focus. He already had a 42-point game to his credit in an earlier round of the tournament, and he was simply on fire against Virginia, hitting shots from all over the court and well beyond the 3-point line. The question became, would Virginia be able to match him?
Edwards: Never do I feel like I’m choosing to carry the team. It’s just I felt good and had rhythm on the shots I was taking, and they were just able to go in.
Ty Jerome, UVA guard: That was the best performance I’ve ever played against. … (Teammates) Kihei (Clark) and Dre (DeAndre Hunter) are both great on-ball defenders, and he just hit everything – going to the basket, step-back threes. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I told him after the game that he’s a helluva player.
Kyle Guy, UVA guard: I told him after the game that I had a lot of respect for him and that he’s a bad dude.
Tony Bennett, UVA coach: We kept saying, “He’s got to make them all. He’s got to make them all. Keep bothering his shots. Keep moving him on offense. See if we can wear him out. Screen him, move him, run him.
It was like, “It’s going to happen sooner or later.” He did not get tired and he kept making the shots.
Purdue spurted out to a 10-point lead midway through the first half, but Virginia battled back to within a point at halftime. The second half was more of the same: Edwards poured in 26 more points, but Guy and Jerome also heated up to keep UVA close. The Cavaliers built an eight-point lead with 13:58 left, but the Edwards and the Boilermakers battled back.
Edwards banked in his 10th 3-pointer of the game to give Purdue a 69-67 lead as the clock ticked under a minute left.
Bennett: He made me rip my play card in half when he hit the shot off the glass. I just ripped it in half. It was good.
Harris, Nets guard: I had a lot of frustration, too. To be honest, I was ready to take out Carsen Edwards, and I’m sure every UVA fan was.
After a UVA turnover, Edwards lined up another trey, which might have been the final dagger to the Cavaliers’ hopes. For once, he missed – but teammate Grady Eifert grabbed the rebound and passed it back out. Virginia was forced to foul, sending Ryan Cline to the line for a one-and-one with 16.9 seconds left. Two makes would give Purdue a four-point advantage, meaning Virginia would need the ball at least twice more to have even a shot at winning.
Anderson, Hoo Crew leader: As time was dwindling down, the Purdue fans started apologizing to us and telling us that UVA had a good run. The four of us knew it wasn’t over, though.
Cline made the first shot, but missed the second, and Jerome collected the rebound. The Cavaliers’ hopes were still alive, but the situation was urgent.
The Mamadi Miracle
Jerome kept the ball and sprinted upcourt, probing the Purdue defense for a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
Matt Painter, Purdue coach: We wanted to foul, but we didn’t want to foul right away, because we didn’t want them at 10 seconds. … I think it was around five seconds. And so we couldn’t be picky about who we were fouling there. Ty had the ball.
Purdue’s Nojel Eastern fouled Jerome with 5.9 seconds left. Even two made free throws would leave UVA one point short and Purdue in possession of the ball.
Polynice, 1984 star: To be very honest, I was saying, “Not again!” That’s all I kept saying. I was like, “Not another year. Please, this has got to end.” That’s all I kept saying. I was like, “Come on, this can’t happen again.”
Mitchell, watching somewhere in the French countryside: I was pretty sure it was over, but there’s always a little bit of hope left.
Jay Huff, current Cavalier, watching from the bench: I’ll be honest – I thought the game was over.
DeAndre Hunter, also on the bench (as told to VirginiaSports.com’s Jeff White): I was like, “The game’s over.”
Jerome made the first free throw to cut the lead to two. He then faced a dilemma: Try to make the second free throw, then foul Purdue quickly in an effort to get the ball back for once last shot, perhaps down by three points, or miss intentionally and try to grab an offensive rebound and a chance to tie the game or win it with a 3-pointer.
Harris, Nets guard: I figured he would make the foul shot and then we would have to foul and that there would still maybe be enough time to maybe get off a 3.
Jerome: There was so much going through my mind. I didn’t really miss it on purpose. I short-armed it.
Harris: Then he missed and I was like, “Oh my God!”
Evans: When we missed that free throw, I said, “Dude, it’s over. We’re about to lose.” But then we got the rebound.
The ball caromed off the front of the rim, bouncing high above a scrum of players below. Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite’s arm reached the highest, and he slapped the ball back toward the other end of the court, with UVA freshman guard Kihei Clark leading three players in frantic pursuit. Clark won the race and collected the ball near the 3-point arc on Purdue’s offensive half of the court as precious seconds ticked off the clock.
Harris: I saw the ball going in the backcourt and I was like, “No, no, no!”
Jerome: I wasn’t thinking. I was just screaming for the ball. I was screaming at Kihei. I said a lot of words and was clapping my hands real fast.
Clark: I knew we didn’t have much time, but tried to advance the ball. So that’s like, “Get it to Mamadi.” As soon as I caught it and was dribbling, I saw him right away.
Jerome: He looked me off first, or looked Kyle [Guy] off first and then looked me off.
Clark indeed bypassed Guy and Jerome, who were both calling for the ball at halfcourt, and instead whipped a one-handed pass all the way downcourt to Diakite, positioned about 10 feet from the basket.
Polynice: The fact that Clark had the presence of mind to kick it ahead rather than shoot it, nobody talks about that. I thought that was the smartest play I’ve ever seen by a player. That was impressive.
Diakite caught the ball and shot it in one smooth motion; replays later showed he released it with 0.2 seconds on the clock. The ball arched over the outstretched arms for Purdue’s 7-foot-3 center, Matt Haarms, and fell cleanly through the net. Tie game, and we’re going to overtime. Some have since dubbed the play “the Mamadi Miracle.”
Anderson, Hoo Crew leader: My friends and I joke that we blacked out from screaming so much. We were the only people cheering in our section, and most of the Purdue fans had some choice words about it. The momentum shift that came with that shot was felt throughout the arena.
Harris: I was screaming, going nuts, but there were no complaints from neighbors. Luckily, we have some thick walls here. But man, it was awesome.
Couric: I was ready to throw in the towel, but when Mamadi just went swish at the end I couldn’t believe it! So exciting!!!! I needed to take some beta blockers to deal with the highs and lows of that game.
Mamadi Diakite, at the press conference after the game: I don’t know. It happened. I was the person who was designed to take it. And I don’t know. I took it, and it went in. I was happy and ready for the next five minutes. I don’t know how to talk about it. It was unbelievable. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t know.
Mitchell, somewhere in France: In the middle of Mamadi’s shot, my phone froze. I had no clue if he made it or not for like 45 seconds. It was the longest 45 seconds of my life.
I don’t know if we were going through a tunnel or what. I think we were just like in the woods and just lost service at the worst time. And then when it finally came back – and this was at like 5 o’clock in the morning at this point – I started yelling because I knew the shot had gone in and I woke everyone on the bus up.
Evans: I was like, “Dude, are you kidding me! This is not Virginia basketball. This does not happen to us.” But it is! These last couple years have been a roller coaster. But things are starting to fall into place.
Not everyone saw the shot fall.
Dagenhart, newlywed: After our wedding reception, I ran back into the venue to grab my purse and as I walked out to the buses, I saw each erupt in cheers about 10 seconds apart. It was the shot that sent us into overtime.
Lamp, former UVA star: To be honest with you, I didn’t see the last shot. I saw UVA down three and then I didn’t see the last shot. When I was able to pull it back up on the phone, it had just started overtime.
I felt like once it went into overtime, it was going to be UVA’s game.
That seemed to be the consensus feeling amongst the Virginia fans.
Anderson: Going into overtime we knew that there was no way UVA wasn’t going to get the win.
Polynice: I said, “Oh yeah, now we’re going to win!” But I was still on pins and needles – even in the overtime.
Evans: Once we went into overtime, I was like, “We’re going to win this game. We’re going to go to the Final Four.” And that’s exactly what we did.
The Cavaliers did indeed win the game in overtime, 80-75, with the freshman Clark nailing the clinching free throws at the end to set off a wild celebration in Louisville, Charlottesville and the world, really.
UVA President Jim Ryan: It was agony and ecstasy neatly packaged into 5.9 seconds – impending tournament peril, acceptance of loss, a scramble and sprint, then wonder of wonders, new life: overtime! Our row in the Yum! Arena quickly produced an amorphous, slowly bobbing group hug. There were shouts of joy and disbelief. Tears were shed. Truly, one of the most thrilling sports moments I’ve ever witnessed, and I’m grateful it was shared in embrace with my family and friends. Wahoowa!
Dagenhart and the wedding party were headed back to Charlottesville when the score went final. The bus found its way to the Corner, where jubilant students had gathered at the intersection of University Avenue and 14th Street.
Dagenhart (again, via Facebook): Everyone started banging on the roof of the bus when we won and then we sang “The Good Old Song.” I believe Trey Garza also yelled out, “Take this bus to Minneapolis!” Minutes later the bus dropped us off on the Corner instead, where we couldn’t help but gravitate into the mob of UVA students taking over the streets.
Then my groom had an idea: His bride needed to crowd surf to celebrate the big win. He quickly summoned a group of strong guys and up I went. In addition to saying “I do,” it was the best feeling ever. And they both happened to be on the same day.
My maid of honor Annie McDonough was also there for the lift to make sure I had my flowers... because two bouquet tosses is better than one.
And crowd surfing twice in your wedding dress is also better than once. Which is why I decided to do it again and weave through the sea of people to retrieve my bouquet from the guy who caught it.
So are my shoes and dress still white? No. But my heart is full and we are so happy for the Hoos.
Needless to say, the alumni were ecstatic. Wilkins and Hall celebrated over FaceTime in Australia and New Zealand. Harris chatted with former teammates in a group text organized for former walk-on Thomas Rogers. Evans FaceTimed with Mike Scott. Lamp texted former teammate Lee Raker.
Evans: There was zero, zero, zero on the clock and I’m just looking around the bar and hugging the people who had come later. I just broke down into tears because I know there’s not a more deserving person than Coach Bennett and his players. I say that because of the circumstances last year when we were on the wrong side of history. Him being a God-fearing man and being as humble as he is, he took that setback and they embraced the season after.
It’s been beautiful to watch these guys. They’re so close-knit. You can tell that they hang out outside of basketball, and it’s amazing to see. I’m just so happy for those guys, Coach Bennett, the University of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville.
Harris: I was just so happy for Coach Bennett and the guys on the team – with everything they’ve been through – and the fans. It was just so deserving. Going to the Final Four is every college basketball player’s dream. For these guys to make it and what they were able to overcome, I was just overwhelmed with happiness. Just the resiliency of the team to stick with it was awesome.
… I was a really small part in all of it. I was in Coach Bennett’s first recruiting class, but the other guys after me were the ones who really took it to another level. Mike Scott got it started, but then there were guys like Malcolm and Justin and Anthony and Tobey. Those are the guys who took it to another level, and then these guys have taken it up another notch.
Mitchell: It’s amazing. I saw a picture of Coach Bennett cutting down the net and you can see the emotions in his eyes. We all know how hard he’s worked and how hard he’s pushed all of us – so for him to finally get there and reach what we all knew he was capable of is really cool.
And obviously we’re older, but we spend time together with the players during the summer and stay in contact. It’s all part of a family, so to see those guys win – especially like that – there’s nothing better.
Lamp: I’m just a huge Tony Bennett fan, so I was incredibly happy for him. I love the way he coaches, the way his teams play, the character of the kids they bring in, just the quality of people he brings in to play there. I was thrilled for him. I know how hard he has worked and what he has done for the program overall.
The current players, in turn, paid tribute to their predecessors.
Guy, in postgame comments: I’ve said in previous interviews this week that most of the credit goes to the guys who aren’t here anymore. And to [fifth-year center] Jack [Salt’s] class. They did all the work and built the foundation, and we’re lucky enough to walk into a great program with the best coach in the country. So to finally get the critics off his back means a lot, and going to a Final Four.
Jerome: They built an amazing foundation. You think of all the guys that came before us and just the teams that were so close and showed you just how difficult it is to get to the Final Four.
And how many times Coach Bennett has been a one-seed or a two-seed and has had so much regular-season success – to be the team that gets him to the Final Four, I think that’s what means the most. But he’s believed in every single one of us. He has our best interest at heart, on and off the court. And he’s a great person.
To finally quiet the critics feels great.
Whitelaw Reid, Molly Minturn and Caroline Newman contributed to this report.