The only things missing at John Paul Jones Arena Monday night were the players and the hardwood. Two pretty essential ingredients for a basketball game when you think about it.
But every available seat, with maybe a handful of exceptions, was filled. Those who couldn’t make the 1,200-mile trip to Minneapolis came to the JPJ to watch the telecast.
And they saw a fitting final chapter of the ultimate redemption story.
The University of Virginia, which made the wrong kind of history 55 weeks earlier, defeated Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime to win its first national championship in men’s basketball.
Four sections in the south end were not available, and the top half of the upper deck on the west side was curtained off. According to university officials, there were 7,907 fans in the arena — perhaps a JPJ record for an event with no live performers.
And were they into it. They could be heard in Crozet when Virginia took a 17-7 lead with 9:54 remaining in the first half. They manicured their nails orally when the Red Raiders went ahead 25-21 five minutes later.
And when De’Andre Hunter hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:10 left in overtime, it absolute bedlam.
In addition to Championship Monday, it was also just Monday. Which meant going to class.
“It’s been a normal day,” said Alec Tekamp, a fourth-year from Norfolk’s Maury High. “But with a much faster heartbeat.”
As Tekamp sat on The Lawn with friends Meg Evett and Carla Weidner, tip-off was some eight hours away. Around them, students were going about their day, but their choice of clothing was a little different.
“A lot more orange and blue today,” Weidner said.
Evett was decked out in a Kyle Guy jersey, though she’s a fan of everyone — including the architect himself.
“I love the team and the program Tony has built,” she said, referring to U.Va. coach Tony Bennett. “It’s been one of my favorite parts of college. I’m just so proud they’ve made it where they were because they’ve come back from a lot of bad press.”
Oh, yes … that. Exactly 388 days earlier, in case anyone forgot, the Cavaliers lost to UMBC in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was the first time ever that a No. 1 seed lost to a No. 16.
The players have been facing question about that ever since. So have the students.
“Family members and friends were reaching out to me — ‘I can’t believe you lost!’ ” said fourth-year Matt Gummersbach of Pittsburgh. “This year has been total vindication.”
Down at “The Corner,” the hot spot for restaurant and watering holes, there was plenty of life. Mincer’s, which sells U.Va. memorabilia and sportswear, was bursting at the seams.
Terry Murray (Class of ’76) and his wife, Dianne, made the one-hour drive from Bridgewater. Terry graduated the year Virginia won its first ACC championship with Wonderful Wally Walker. He also remembers the Final Four runs in 1981 and ’84.
This has been special.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “And it’s helping my bracket, too, because I picked them all the way.”
Diane said Terry’s confidence has never wavered. Not even on Saturday, when Virginia trailed Auburn by two points with 1.5 seconds left.
“We were watching with friends, and everybody had given up,” she said. “But Terry held on.”
Gus Nielsen (’12) also took the day to be in town. He’s in grad school at Duke but blew off his class.
“I’m definitely anxious about tonight,” Nielsen said. “But either way, we made the Final Four and got rid of a lot of haters along the way.”
The Class of 2019 has been through it with this team. In their first year, Virginia blew a 16-point lead and lost to Syracuse in the Elite Eight. A year later, the Cavaliers scored all of 39 points in a second-round loss to Florida.
And last year was UMBC. The ultimate failure followed by the program’s first national championship.
“It makes this year so much sweeter,” said Ted O’Rourke, a fourth-year from New Canaan, Conn. “It was a tough exit for the team and the community, but it brought us closer together.”
Temple Moore, a ’12 graduate, summed it up.
“It’s the redemption story everyone wants,” he said.
Dave Johnson, 757-247-4649, email@example.com, @DaveJohnsonDP