Moments after Villanova clinched its second basketball championship in three years Monday night, securing itself among the college basketball powerhouses with an overpowering 79-62 win over Michigan, thousands of students and fans inside the campus Connelly Center let out a long-awaited scream of pure joy.
They had staked out prime viewing spots hours earlier. They danced and sang together. They jumped up and down. And when the clock hit zero, they streamed out from the heart of campus onto Lancaster Avenue.
There they cheered and shouted in what was mostly an orderly celebration that was marred slightly when fans set unauthorized bonfires, ripped up some "No Parking" signs and overcame grease to climb lamp posts.
Only two arrests were reported before the crowd dispersed.
Students will get a chance to recover as classes, which were scheduled to resume today after spring break, have been canceled.
Read More > > > Philly to host parade for Villanova after NCAA championship win
Many of the students had experienced this exact type of euphoria before, back in 2016 when Villanova beat North Carolina on a breathtaking Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater. But familiarity sure didn't make this victory any less sweet.
"It's coming all over again," said Gavin Kreitman, 23, of Center City, who graduated last year but returned to experience that winning feeling once again with his college community.
"It's incredible," said his friend Brendan Mulry, also 23, of Roxborough.
About 1,200 students, alumni, and more filled the multipurpose Villanova Room, fixing their eyes on two large TV screens. Across the front of the room, silver balloons spelled out, "Let's March Nova."
More than a thousand others watched from three different other viewing rooms in the Connelly Center.
Senior Janice Puder, 21, of Piermont, N.Y., who was watching next door in the Connelly Center's cinema, said she wouldn't have wanted to watch the game anywhere else but on campus.
"I feel like you can always go to a sports bar. I probably will for other Villanova games for the rest of my life," she said with a laugh. "But this was the last time to be on campus as a student. I didn't want to miss that."
On Lancaster Avenue, Kelly's Taproom was also filled to the rafters, with a line out the door and down the block that formed three hours before tipoff.
Justin Searcy, 18, a freshman from Allentown, and his friends snagged a prime location in front of one of the screens.
"I'm pumped," Searcy said, looking around the room."It's invigorating."
When the game was no longer in doubt, about halfway through the second half, Radnor authorities prepared for a massive celebration on Route 30: They put mounted officers in place.
Earlier inside the center, moments before the 9:20 start, some students sat on the floor, chatting with friends and scrolling their phones. Others stayed on their feet, dancing to pop hits that were blaring from the speakers. As the pregame show played silently, students cheered when the broadcast panned to Wildcats fans in the San Antonio arena and booed when Michigan players and fans were shown.
Then, the game was on. Tipoff was met by cheers and dancing. But Michigan came out shooting, taking enough of a lead to quiet the crowd. The anxiety was palpable.
"I knew [Michigan's] defense was going to be good, but I didn't think it was going to be this good," said senior Elizabeth O'Malley, 21, of New York.
The down mood lasted until slightly less than six minutes to go in the first half, when Donte DiVincenzo, the Wildcats' leading scorer with 31 points off the bench who was named the game's most outstanding player, sunk a three-pointer to give Nova its first lead since early in the game.
And just like that, the Wildcats discovered their shot, and took control, heading into the locker room with a 9-point lead — and the faithful inside the student center regained their swagger.
"Jay [Wright] always talks to them at halftime," said senior Alyssa Gill, 21, of Princeton.
"I have faith," said senior Evie Hobbs, 22, of Boston.
The Wolverines, a defensive powerhouse that had not lost a game since Feb. 6, were the only thing separating the Augustinian Catholic university of just 7,000 undergraduates from its second national championship in three years. It would be a feat not accomplished since Florida won it all in 2006 and 2007.
The Wildcats' 2016 national championship, capped by that breathtaking Jenkins buzzer-beater, was fresh on the minds of many, even those who weren't in college yet at the time.
Searcy said he watched the game on campus with his family. What he remembers most, he said, was "that last shot … what it felt like in that moment."
"Oh my gosh, it was fantastic," senior Becca Walters, 22, of Washington, said of the 2016 victory.
"It changed my life completely," said junior Andrew McKeough, 21, a friend of hers from Wayne. "I wasn't that big into campus life before that."
For this national championship game, Walters, McKeough, and their friend Ashden Personius, 22, of Winchester, Va., could have watched the game from a bar near campus. But they chose to be here, in the heart of campus surrounded by fellow students of all ages, they said.
When the game ended, the students sprinted toward Lancaster Avenue as "All I Do is Win" by DJ Khaled played throughout the campus.
And just like that, the faithful convened at Ithan and Lancaster Avenues for what has become a tradition. They set off firecrackers, popped bottles of champagne, and began tossing back beer.
Poles in and around the campus had been greased in an effort to dissuade potential revelers from climbing them, but that did not stop fans from trying.
At the center of the mass of celebrators was a bonfire being fueled by whatever the crowd could manage pass along, including a large tree branch that was handed overhead from person to person to feed the fire.
A man climbed up the Ithan Avenue traffic pole, then slid his way horizontally above the throng. There, he chugged beers that were tossed to or at him. He was up there for a half hour.
And as it has become tradition, fans jumped over the bonfire and fireworks were set off, creating a smoky scene.
Nevertheless, the scene was relatively calm early Tuesday morning, no doubt in part for the large security presence. Officials had called in the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division, the FBI and other law enforcement from the county, including three motorcycle teams, a state police helicopter, and a special triage center, as well as 75 university public safety staffers.
By 1 a.m., the crowd had shrunk to about half, police were standing by monitoring things, the bonfire was still going strong, and hardcore fans were preparing for a long night of partying. After all, their team had achieved history, joining just a handful of squads to win two championships in three years.
Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.