Kansas defeated North Carolina 72-69 in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game in New Orleans on Monday.
But the No. 1 seed was far from certain to beat the No. 8 seed. Kansas took an early 7-0 lead, but North Carolina responded with a 16-0 run late in the second.
Kansas trailed UNC by as many as 16 points in the first half. The NCAA says the 16-point comeback is the biggest ever. A 10 point halftime deficit in a men’s championship game was overcome by Kentucky versus Utah in 1998, according to the NCAA.
With fewer than 11 minutes left, the Jayhawks erased the Tar Heels’ lead. With 3 minutes left, the game was knotted 65-65.
With less than 5 seconds left, Dajuan Harris Jr. stepped out of bounds, giving the ball back to UNC. But Caleb Love’s final heave was off.
Kansas was making its 10th title game appearance, and third under coach Bill Self. His first title was in 2008.
Teams had unique routes to the final
The two-storied programs arrived at the championship game via quite different routes.
Despite the celebrated team’s history of success, including six national titles, UNC was clearly the underdog. Coach Hubert Davis is in his first year at UNC. He replaced Roy Williams, who retired after 18 seasons at UNC and 15 years at Kansas.
Last month, UNC was on the cusp of the tournament, but a late-season win streak secured their place. In the Elite Eight, UNC upset No. 1 seed Baylor in overtime, ending St. Peter’s Cinderella run.
Saturday’s game against rival Duke sent famous coach Mike Krzyzewski into retirement with a loss — and inspired tens of thousands of supporters in Chapel Hill into boisterous celebrations that injured ten people.
Kansas, the No. 1 seed, had a less interesting voyage. The Jayhawks beat Creighton and Providence in the early stages before cruising past 10th-seed Miami in the Final Four.
Kansas cruised to an 81-65 victory over No. 2 seed Villanova on Saturday, aided by Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun’s three-point shooting. McCormack had 25 points on 12 shots while Wilson had 11 plus 12 rebounds in the win.
The Jayhawks lost the title game in 2012 and were a favourite in 2020 before Covid-19 canceled the event. UNC has six national championships, including 2005, 2009, and 2017.
In a sport dominated by one-and-done youngsters on their way to the NBA, both UNC and Kansas relied on experienced hands.
The Tar Heels were led by junior forward Armando Bacot, who averages 16 points per game. He had 21 rebounds against Duke and 22 against St. Peter’s, giving UNC many second-chance opportunities. He damaged his ankle against Duke and may be hampered in the championship.
Brady Manek, RJ Davis, and Caleb Love are three more UNC players that average at least 13 points per game. Love led UNC with 28 points in the win over Duke, including an off-the-dribble 3-pointer with 25 seconds left that sealed the win.