For the sixth time in history, the North Carolina Tar Heels are NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions with a 71-65 win over Gonzaga. With this championship, coach Roy Williams would pass his predecesor Dean Smith with his third National Championship. This game was gritty and intense, but also unusual as both North Carolina and Gonzaga did not play to their strengths. Carolina was terrible from 3 point range, they were outrebounded, and at times outhustled. But they still reign victorious. Gonzaga played at a faster pace, owned the boards, but turned the ball over 14 times compared to four by North Carolina.
The first half was all about Gonzaga and Josh Perkins. Perkins erupted for 13 points in the half including three 3-pointers giving the Zags a 35-32 lead going into half. North Carolina struggled mightily offensively in the first half, but their defense kept them involved. Coach Williams simply stated “We have to just make shots”. Joel Berry would carry the Tar Heels offensively for the most of the game. He ended the first half with 13 points. Berry was the only North Carolina player to make a 3-pointer the entire game; as a team North Carolina went 4-27 from deep.
The second half was hard to watch, because initially there wasn’t much action. Fouls were called left and right like a pickup game, resulting in Gonzaga big man Zach Collins to foul out and Przemek Karnowski to be in foul trouble for most of the game. Karnowski struggled offensively as well, only shooting 1/8 from the field. Aside from the fouls, Nigel Williams-Goss and Berry would go bucket for bucket in the half. Berry would finish with 22 points and 4-13 from three, Williams-Goss lead Gonzaga with 15 points on 5/17 shooting. Williams-Goss is a tremendous player, he made shots when they counted to keep Gonzaga in the game.
North Carolina star forwards Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson struggled early as well, but came up big late. Jackson finessed a basket over Williams-Goss to put the Tar Heels up with 1:40 to go. Jackson would end up with 16 points. Meeks tallied 7 points and 10 rebounds but made the defensive play of the game. Meeks stuffed Williams-Goss at the rim, leading to a dunk by Jackson, putting North Catolinawith 12 seconds left.
Last season Carolina was stunned by a Kris Jenkins heave at the last second, crushing the Tar Heels. To be in a similar situation and force the results to yield differently displays the growth and maturity of North Carolina. Ultimately, North Carolina’s experience paid dividends to their success. Led by seniors and juniors, North Carolina again proves that you don’t have to be “one and done” to be great, sometimes you have to grow up a bit. Congratulations champs.