LOS ANGELES, April 3, (AFP): Freshman Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench to score 31 points as Villanova University outclassed the University of Michigan Wolverines to claim the prestigious US collegiate basketball crown on Monday.
Towering guard DiVincenzo dominated the Michigan defense with a devastating first half display as the top-seeded Wildcats cruised home for a 79-62 win at San Antonio’s Alamodome in Texas.
DiVincenzo’s 31 points were a record for a bench player in a Championship game and earned him the award of Most Outstanding player for the 2018 Final Four.
DiVincenzo’s starring role sealed Villanova’s third national college basketball title, two years after the Pennsylvania college clinched their second crown in 2016.
“I didn’t think that I was going to have this kind of a night,” DiVincenzo said afterwards. “I just kind of found myself in a rhythm.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said his team had saved their best performance for last.
“I really can’t get my mind around it. I never dreamed of this,” Wright told TBS television.
“We just took it one day at a time. We tried to get better every day, and I thought we played our best game in the championship game.”
Villanova were heavy favourites for Monday’s NCAA showpiece, the climax of the “March Madness” knockout competition that is one of the highlights of the US sporting calendar.
Michigan made a fast start, with Moritz Wagner’s layup helping the Wolverines jump out to a 21-14 lead midway through the first half.
However, DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges hit back with jumpers to cut the Wolverines’ lead to three points before two Colin Gillespie free throws put Villanova to within one at 21-20.
DiVincenzo then drained a superb three-point jump shot with just over six minutes of the half remaining to put Villanova ahead.
Although Michigan rallied through Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman, DiVincenzo again took Villanova clear with a three-pointer and a layup in quick succession to put the favourites 30-26 ahead with 4min 7sec remaining in the half.
DiVincenzo traded dunks with Michigan’s Charles Matthews but moments later provided the assist for Omari Spellman to put Villanova 34-28 ahead.
A three-pointer from Jalen Brunson handed Villanova a nine-point cushion at the half-time break, with a 37-28 lead.
Wagner reduced the deficit early in the second half, but Villanova were increasingly dominant, and a burst of scoring soon had them a commanding 15 points clear at 48-33.
Michigan attempted to staunch the flow of points but both Duncan Robinson and Jordan Poole missed jumpers before Bridges drained another three-pointer to put the Wildcats 51-33 ahead.
The Wolverines cut Villanova’s lead to 12 points with quick scores from Wagner and Matthews, but DiVincenzo delivered a double-whammy with two unanswered three-pointers as the Wildcats opened up a 62-44 lead with eight minutes left.
From there, the Wolverines never looked like making up the lost ground and Spellman put Villanova 21 points clear at 79-58 with just under two minutes left.