SAN ANTONIO – For those of you who don’t know – and only if you’re a citizen of one our smallest states would you – Villanova’s second national championship in three years came courtesy of the “Michael Jordan of Delaware.”
And know this: Michael Jordan, in his one shining moment in 1982, did not have the same impact that Donte DiVincenzo had on the Wildcats’ 79-62 victory over third-seeded Michigan Monday night. The Wolverines were consumed by Donte’s Inferno.
A 6-5 third-year sophomore who also goes by the nickname “The Big Ragu” brought the special sauce to a team badly needed a boost. Considering that the Wildcats blitzkrieged their way through the NCAA Tournament, winning six games by the average margin of 17.6 points, it’s foolish to imagine Villanova’s victory wasn’t ordained.
But Donte DiVincenzo’s 31 is the most points by a reserve in the championship game and considering that Villanova’s starters were a pedestrian 17-of-40 from the field and 5-of-20 from three, the Wildcats needed a productive performance from their sixth man who plays starter’s minutes.
Ironically, Michigan was done in by a someone who scored the most points for a winning time since the Wolverines’ Glenn Rice tallied 31 in 1989 – the last time Michigan won on Monday night. And Donte DiVincenzo, who is from Wilmington, Delaware, surpassed Louisville’s Luke Hancock, who came off the bench to score 22 to beat the Wolverines in 2013.
What will stick in the craw of the maize and blue fans is that Hancock’s performance and Louisville’s title no longer exists in NCAA record books but neither does it count as a title for Michigan. DiVincenzo, like Hancock, was named the most outstanding player.
During the East Regional games in Boston, CBS analyst Jim Spanarkel often described Donte DiVincenzo as “deceptively athletic.” That’s what happens when you’re a white boy … but one who can jump.
The red-headed guard could have the three-minute One Shining Moment devoted to the plays he made.
He entered the game less than three minutes after the opening tip and after Villanova had missed its first four 3-pointers – Kansas fans watching no doubt wondered “what the eff” – DiVincenzo finally splashed a triple at 12:41 and on the next possession took advantage of a mismatch on Zavier Simpson for a three-point play. That was merely the prelude.
Villanova removed all doubt in the first 10 minutes of the second half with the Big Ragu displaying a number of satisfying flavors.
- He rebounded a miss, out-jumping 7-1 Jon Teske, then led a break to the other end where he dropped a dime on Mikal Bridges for a three. “He’s a killer,” Bridges said of his teammate. “He came out there and was aggressively defensively and offensively. He carried us tonight.”
- Michigan’s Charles Matthews got free on a drive and a would-be dunk but DiVincenzo went vertical, both arms outstretched, to deny the Wolverines’ most dynamic player at the rack. In the first half, DiVincenzo had missed a layup but raced to the other end to block Simpson’s layup.
- With junior point guard Jalen Brunson sitting with four fouls with 10 minutes to play, the Wolverines trailed by 13 and still had hope. DiVincenzo crushed those hopes. First, an eye blink behind the back dribble earned him two free throws (he made one). The he drove and scored on Simpson (again). And after a Matthews dunk at 9:38 pulled the Wolverines within 56-44, “Michael Jordan” drained back-to-back 3-pointers, both times getting free off the dribble.
After that second triple connected, he didn’t do a Jordan shrug but the right side of his mouth curled into a grin that translated into, “I’m feeling it and this is fun.”
Anytime you get into a rhythm like that, where you can pull up from anywhere and just knock them down it’s tough to stop,” Michigan senior Muhamad-Ali Abdur Rahkman said. “You’re always on your heels defensively because you never know what he’s going to do — either shoot, pull up and shoot the 3 or drive to the basket.”
Villanova, a No. 1 seed but not the overall No. 1 seed (that was Virginia, which became the first to lose to a No. 16 seed), came here as the favorite and did little to dispel that by torching Kansas in Saturday’s semifinal. They were favored again against the Wolverines, who hadn’t faced a team seeded higher than sixth in reaching the title game.
When junior Moritz Wagner converted a sweet pick and roll with a layup, the Wolverines had a 21-14 lead nine minutes into the game. But Moe Buckets became No Buckets as he didn’t score again until a dunk with 9:36 remained.
Villanova didn’t play as flawlessly as it did against Kansas but it was plenty good. The Wildcats shot 47.4 percent from the field, had a 38-27 edge in rebounding plus a 35-7 edge in bench points. DiVincenzo, appropriately, had the ball at the end, dribbling out the final seconds and heaving the ball toward the Alamodome roof before being mobbed by teammates.
And that “M.J.” nickname? Credit that to Jay Wright, who now joins Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski as the only active coaches with multiple national titles, with being a bit of a smart ass.
“He said I said it to him facetiously in his freshman year when he was acting like a superstar and I said to him, ‘You act like you’re the Michael Jordan of Delaware.’ I don’t remember saying that. But he said that. And then other people started saying it. So, then I thought that the players started repeating it. So, I thought they called him that. So, I started saying it. That became his name.”
Call him by his name: Donte DiVincenzo. And considering how Villanova is now The Program in college basketball, he might have more moments like this in the future.