The NCAA Men’s National Championship game was not nearly as exciting as last year, but the UNC Tar Heels do not care.
UNC avenged last year’s heartbreaking loss to Villanova in the final game by defeating Gonzaga this past Monday night in Glendale, Arizona. Both teams advanced to the championship with difficult games in the Final Four.
The first game of the night was Gonzaga, the top seed from the West, versus South Carolina, the tournament’s final Cinderella team, with both teams making their programs’ first Final Four appearance. Gonzaga’s offense was clicking late in the first half, creating a 45-36 halftime advantage for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs continued to play well in the second half and found themselves with a 14-point lead. The Gamecocks stormed by to take a 67-65 lead with seven minutes remaining. P.J. Dozier was making most of the critical plays down the stretch for the Gamecocks as Sindarius Thornwell was inefficient from the field. Gonzaga was able to feed their post players, Zach Collins and Prezemek Karnowski who answered with the next seven points to help stabilize Gonzaga. With 12.7 seconds left and South Carolina down 75-72, South Carolina was unable to get a three-point shot before the Gonzaga fouled Thornwell with 3.5 seconds left in the game. Thornwell made the first free throw and then purposefully missed the second in hopes his team would be able to secure an offensive rebound and a quick basket to tie. Gonzaga was able to secure the defensive board and advance to the championship game.
Second-team All-American Nigel Williams-Goss was particular dominant, scoring 23 points and playing a team-high 36 minutes. In addition, Collins looked like a first-round NBA draft pick with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks.
Oregon gave North Carolina a similar scare in the second NCAA semifinal. The Tar Heels were up 77-76 with only a few seconds left and Kennedy Meeks at the foul line shooting two. Meeks had a career-high game 25 points on 11-13 from the field and 14 rebounds on the night, but was unable to connect on his free throws. Theo Pinson was able to bat out the ball for the Tar Heels and UNC’s Joel Berry II captured the rebound and was immediately fouled. Berry, a typical reliable free throw shooter, missed both of his shots, but Meeks redeemed himself with another offensive rebound and passed the ball to Pinson who dribbled out the clock. The breakout star of March, Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey, scored 21 points but on a poor 3-11 shooting. Justin Jackson, the ACC Player of the Year, contributed 22 points as the Tar Heels moved into the title game with a 77-76 victory.
The title game between North Carolina and Gonzaga was a slug fest with an abundance of fouls and of sloppy play. Gonzaga outplayed UNC for much of the first half but could only muster a 35-32 lead going into halftime. After the break, the fouls began to pile up for both teams. Collins had four fouls with a large majority of the half still to be played. Yet, with the star big man on the bench, both teams were cold from the field and shot under 40 percent. Berry and Williams-Goss led each team as the game went back-and-forth and was tied 65-65 with a little less than two minutes remaining. North Carolina made more plays down the stretch and Gonzaga’s offense went completely stagnant. The Tar Heels won their programs sixth national championship by a final score of 71-65. Berry was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, earning him the honor of receiving Jim Nantz’s coveted tie, which has become a tradition in recent years. The championship for the Tar Heels allows to them to move on from the tragic loss to Villanova a year ago and earns them their first title since 2009. As the trophy returns to Chapel Hill, North Carolina can once again enjoy the summer as NCAA national champions.