San Antonio — Michigan had seen this movie before and, quite frankly, the Wolverines would have been happy to never see it again.
But just like in 2013 when the Wolverines were last in the national championship game, it was once again a player off the bench who proved too much for Michigan to overcome.
On Monday night at the Alamodome it was sophomore Donte DiVincenzo, the 6-foot-5 sixth man for Villanova who scored 18 in the first half on his way to a career-high 31 points in the Wildcats’ 79-62 victory over the Wolverines.
DiVincenzo was named the tournament’s most outstanding player thanks to his 31 points, which was the most ever scored by a non-starter in the national championship game, surpassing the 22 points scored by Luke Hancock of Louisville against Michigan in the 2013 title game.
“Thanks for reminding me about it,” Michigan coach John Beilein said when asked after the game about the comparison.
“Even if we had played our best, it would have been very difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did. It was an incredible performance. Sometimes those individual performances just beat you, and you just say, ‘OK.’ You take off your hat and say, ‘Good game. We played you the best we could. And tonight you were better than us.’”
It’s hard to argue that DiVincenzo was the best player on the court Monday night. While Michigan was effectively taking national player of the year Jalen Brunson out of the game it jumped to a seven-point lead midway through the first half.
But as the Wildcats started to rally, it was DiVincenzo who led the way. He scored 12 points during a 23-7 Villanova run to close the half and had 18 points by halftime, matching his high for the NCAA Tournament.
In the second half he was slowed only partially, hitting a couple more 3-pointers as Villanova stifled any hopes of a Michigan rally.
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“He was making a lot of 3s,” Michigan’s Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “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. 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. It’s tough when you see shots go in like that for him.”
DiVincenzo has had his share of games this season that mirrored Monday’s. He scored 30 in a win over Butler in early February and buried six 3-pointers while scoring 25 in a victory over St. John’s.
But any thought of going off in the national championship game was far from his mind as he checked in after less than three minutes had elapsed.
“Honestly, no, I did not think that I was going to have this kind of night, because every night I come into a game, I just try to bring energy,” DiVincenzo said. “And if we start off, we get off to a good start, I try to take the energy to a new level. I try to defend and rebound to the best of my ability and just trying to get it going.”
He got going and the Wolverines had few answers, once again watching a sixth man shoot the other team to the national championship.
It might have caught Michigan off guard, but the Wildcats were sure it was possible.
“He’s worked so hard to make himself the best player he can be every day,” Brunson said of his teammate. “Honestly, this is very special, but this is nothing surprising for us. We’ve seen Donte do this multiple times this year.
“I’m just so thankful that he was able to have one of these nights tonight. It just shows you how much depth we have as a team and how we just don’t care who gets the credit. If someone is hot, feed him. And just trying to play off each other and just trying to make sure we’re all playing together.”
One more final cruel twist for the Wolverines on Monday: DiVincenzo’s 31 points was the most in a national championship game since Seton Hall’s John Morton scored 35 in 1989 against Michigan.
Of course, the Wolverines won that night. They weren’t as lucky this time.
“He played great,” Michigan’s Duncan Robinson said. “He was aggressive, made a lot of shots, so credit to him on that. I thought we could have done a better job but it was clearly his night and their night.”