Marcus Paige makes the shot for UNC, and all sensation leaves my body. Gaping fear and shallow breathing become my quick, overwhelming reality.
4.7 seconds remain.
Dizziness creeps into my head, but suddenly I’m jolted back to consciousness by a firm grip on my hand. I look down and realize that in the moments of Paige’s incredible ascent into the air and the ball funneling into the basket, my friend and I had instinctively grabbed each other's hand out of immediate shock and dread.
“I can’t feel my fingers.”
“Right, right. Neither can I.”
We don’t let go. Our grip tightens.
Unable to move my head, which feels permanently glued to the television above the bar, I dart my eyes across the room to gauge the reaction. It’s quiet. Hundreds of Villanova alumni have gathered here for the event, and the giddy chatter of near-victory had been collectively silenced by four letters: a tie.
Cut to commercial break. Still staring ahead, I’m not focused on the advertising. Instead, my mind projects a different movie. It’s my 1L year, I’m sitting in an empty room watching Ryan Arcidiacono fall onto the court after losing to UNC in the Round of 32. I should be working on my legal writing paper. But, as if a strange echo, I’m staring at a screen devastated.
It’s 2L year, and another Round of 32 fall to UConn unravels before my eyes.
It’s 3L year, and Darrun Hilliard just misses the shot to tie the game against North Carolina State. The second weekend stays unclaimed another year.
School is now finished, but the Villanova fever remains rampant. Despite a fantastic season, Seton Hall escapes with the Big East championship and ‘Nova’s stellar record results in a 2-seed. The jokes are rampant.
Villanova is constantly overlooked and undervalued. Experts and armchair-analysts alike touted deafening levels of disregard. Even so, I watched a team I love progress with their own increasing noise: “we can, we can, we can.”
There are moments in life that are inevitable. Moments that seemingly wayward roads all still lead to. In the ever-knowing, twisted ways of the universe, somehow this tie felt like the dramatic, unavoidable battle by which Villanova had to declare victory. A perfectly climatic situation to silence doubt.
The commercial break is interrupted by a replay of Paige’s shot. The tan of the court brings me back to focus, and involuntarily, I yell in despair louder than decorum would likely permit.
The final bout of advertisements run, and I repeat a sick mantra in my mind: “This cannot go into overtime. We will lose if we go into overtime.” I finally turn to my friends standing behind me, and we share the same wide-eyed, wordless look of anticipation. This game must end now.
We’re back in Houston. My stomach is in my throat.
The shot clock begins, and the world and I inhale. Inhale all the fear, all the expectation, all the million miles of the road that lead to this very point.
Kris Jenkins inbounds to Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono strides up the court, covered by UNC’s Joel Barry. Nearing the arc, Arcidiacono turns to pass to an open Jenkins, trailing behind him.
Jenkins steadies his feet, and then rises to the air. Down goes the 3.
In a blink, champagne floods my vision. Jumping, yelling, doused in bubbly, every person around me exhales a euphoric, triumphant scream of victory. Of championship.
Tears appear on cue, as does a bursting happiness upon mentally processing the play that had just occurred. “Bang” puts the feeling precisely.
77-74. National champions. The phrase itself felt too surreal to be blurting aloud, yet the exclaims of fevered disbelief and affirmation help internalize it.
Watching streamers cascade upon the court, clutching the bright pink Villanova cap on my head, electric joy radiates like a beam.
All around me, strangers embrace each other, united in glory. Those could argue that this victory may not have been inevitable, but there is no denying that this moment is eternal.
Pardon, this #OneShiningMoment.