Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter was a freshman when the Cavaliers were upset by No. 16 UMBC in the 2018 tournament. He watched the heart-breaking loss from the bench. In his sophomore year, he saved his best performance for the last game of the season.
Hunter overcame a first-half struggle to score a career-high 27 points – 22 after halftime – to lead the Cavaliers to the cathartic 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech for Virginia’s first national championship.
“He stepped up,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “He scored a career high tonight and what a night to have it.”
Hunter’s pair of 3-point shots rescued the Cavaliers after a 10-point lead with 10:24 in regulation time had slipped away. Hunter closed the second half by scoring five of Virginia’s seven points in the final 2:21 of regulation time.
The first of the two 3-pointers, from the right side with 14 seconds to play in the second half, tied the score at 68-68.
“I think I missed a rotation,” said Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney. “I should have went and taken Hunter…it was a great pass and I should have rotated.” The basket ended a Texas Tech seven-point run.
The second, with 2:09 to play in overtime, put the Cavaliers ahead, 75-73, the last time they would take a lead in their championship season.
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“I just tried to be aggressive,” said Hunter. “I was aggressive in the first half, but the shots weren’t falling. I just stayed aggressive and the shots started dropping.”
Hunter had made just one of eight shots in the first half. After halftime, he made seven of eight. “Hunter came up big for them in the second half,” said Texas Tech senior Tariq Owens. “I don’t know what happened at halftime, but he couldn’t miss in the second half.” Hunter’s lone miss in the second half came with just 1:11 remaining in the second half on a jump shot blocked by Norense Odiase.
With the game on the line late in the second half, it was Hunter hitting shots when needed. When Culver tied the game with two free throws with 2:38 remaining in the half, Hunter pulled up a jumper from the right side of the free throw line to regain the lead.
It was Hunter’s 3-point basket from the right corner with 2:09 that regained the lead for Virginia. It was his only shot in overtime. “This was a great win for our program,” said Hunter. “It’s a great win for our coach, and we’re happy to be here.”
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Hunter set career highs in points and rebounds in his championship-winning performance. His game-high 27 points surpassed his previous high of 23 versus Gardner-Webb in the first round of the tournament March 22. Hunter grabbed nine rebounds, surpassing his previous high of six, also against Gardner Webb. His final rebound of the game came with just three seconds remaining and the game tied at 68. It nearly proved costly for Virginia.
After turning the ball over on a bad pass, Texas Tech held the ball with just three seconds left in regulation. Jarrett Culver’s game-winning attempt was blocked by Braxton Key at the buzzer to send the game into overtime tied at 68.
Hunter made eight of 16 shots, including four of five beyond the arc and seven of nine from the free throw line. His seven free throws set a tournament high for him but were two short of his season high of nine set on December 12 against William & Mary. His four 3-pointers were just one shy of his career high set March 4 against Syracuse, and they surpass his tournament high of two which made against both Gardner Webb and Oklahoma in the first and second rounds of the tournament.
“Joy is in the competition, like coach said,” Hunter said. “…We worked for this all season, and all that work just paid off.”