MINNEAPOLIS — Virginia refused to fold. Not after the worst loss in college basketball history bounced them from last year’s NCAA Tournament and launched them into infamy. Not this year, down 14 to another plucky 16-seed in Gardner-Webb. Not against Oregon in a rock fight. Not against Purdue, which led with 0.0 on the clock. Not against Auburn, when the game was over before it wasn’t. And not against Texas Tech, a basketball team from a snuff film seemingly more interested in stealing your soul than focusing on the scoreboard.
The Cavaliers completed the road to redemption with an 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech to win a national championship.
Guy, the loquacious and charismatic Indiana kid, did what so many grow up dreaming of doing in the backyard. He played all 45 minutes, scoring 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 4-for-9 from behind the arc. He also did what he always does: provide the intangibles. The stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Virginia was staring its largest deficit of the night, 25-21, with 4:40 to play before halftime. Play was halted when an unidentified object flew onto the court, coming to a rest on the elbow.
“I just saw something fly, It didn’t hit anyone I don’t think but I was on that side of the court,” Kihei Clark said. “I thought it was some plastic thing and I saw Kyle folding it up. I was just thinking about whoever threw it was going to get thrown out.”
Jack Salt, also on the floor at the time, didn’t know what it was either.
“I thought the cheerleaders threw a pom-pom. I was just confused and the ref just called a stop to the game.”
“I knew it was something circular,” Jayden Nixon said. “I thought someone threw their mixtape on the ground or something.”
“I thought it was just a piece of wood or something,” Austin Katstra said.
It wasn’t a mixtape or a pom-pom or plastic thing or a piece of wood. It was a tortilla. Actually it was a stack of five or six of them, per the security guard tasked with disposing of the carbohydrate.
It’s a Red Raiders tradition to throw tortillas at football games. Non-sensical? Sure. But sports and the accompanying pageantry are not governed by reason. Security was told to be on the lookout for kids bringing the contraband into the student section.
These happened to elude detection until it was too late.
It was Guy, of course, who took matters into his own hands with quick, decisive action. He wasted no time picking up the tortillas, folding them, and getting them out of the area.
The karmic act of cleaning up after others may not be related to the 11-4 Cavaliers run that followed. But to dismiss the notion out of hand during this year, with this story, would show a lack of imagination.
“It kind of shows how funny Kyle is,” Nixon said. “He’s always about the moment and just picked it up. That same composure you see on the court you see it every day at practice.
“He’s just an incredible human being,” Clark said. “He’s always the bigger person. That just shows you what kind of guy he is. I guess it worked out to our advantage.”
“That might not have been the best idea for them,” Jay Huff said. “I think he also just wanted to keep the game going. That’s wild.”
After the game, the giddy and honest whispers from those in and close to the triumphant program centered around the storybook nature of all this. Perfect fodder for a movie that warms the soul.
The faithful protagonist was broken, then fixed itself. The particulars are extraordinary, but the arc is familiar.
Every movie needs its comic relief. Enter the Tortilla Incident. A moment of levity and ridiculousness when the tension was the highest. That, naturally, will be but a sliver of this screenplay, playing among the sorrow and euphoria. The unflappable Guy wouldn’t be folded. He did the folding. Another clutch play in a career full of them. Another surreal moment to sit among the others.
But just like last year was no nightmare, Monday night was more than a wishful dream.