Kansas defeats North Carolina to win 4th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship

By Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) – Kansas defeated North Carolina 72-69 in the NCAA men’s basketball title game in New Orleans on Monday, the program’s 4th national championship and the second for the coach of longtime Bill Self.

But it was far from a surefire victory for the No. 1 seed over the No. 8 seed. Kansas took an early 7-0 lead to start the game, but North Carolina s quickly settled in, starting a 16-0 run at the end of the half.

Kansas trailed UNC by no less than 16 points in the first half and was down 15 points at halftime. According to the NCAA, the 16-point comeback is the most in title game history. Additionally, according to the NCAA, the previous record for the largest halftime deficit overcome in a men’s title game was 10, by Kentucky versus Utah in 1998.

The Jayhawks came out firing after halftime, eventually erasing the Tar Heels’ lead with less than 11 minutes left. A back-and-forth battle ensued with the game tied 65-65 with 3 minutes remaining.

Kansas quickly had a 3-point lead behind and turned the ball over with less than 5 seconds left when Dajuan Harris Jr. went out of bounds, returning the ball to UNC. But a final uprising from Caleb Love was out of place.

It was the 10th appearance in the title game for Kansas and the third under head coach Bill Self. This is his second title, the other coming in 2008.

The teams have taken different paths to the title match

The two illustrious programs have taken very different paths this season to arrive at the championship game.

8th-seeded UNC was the clear underdog despite the team’s acclaimed history of success, which includes six national titles. The Tar Heels are led by coach Hubert Davis, who is in his first year in the role at UNC. He succeeded Roy Williams, who retired after leading UNC for 18 seasons and Kansas for 15 years previously.

UNC was a team on the bubble just over a month ago, but a late-season winning streak clinched a berth in the tournament. Then came the madness of March, as UNC toppled No. 1 seed Baylor in overtime and ended St. Peter’s unlikely Cinderella streak, 15 seeds in the Elite Eight.

They followed those with a back-and-forth against bitter rival Duke on Saturday, sending legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski into retirement with a loss – and inspiring tens of thousands of fans in Chapel Hill in noisy celebrations that left 10 injured.

Kansas, the No. 1 seed, had a less bumpy road to the title game. The Jayhawks survived close matchups with Creighton and Providence in earlier rounds, and retired late in a tussle against 10th-seeded Miami to reach the Final Four.

Saturday, Kansas led wire to wire on No. 2 seed Villanova in a comfortable 81-65 win, buoyed by three-point shooting from senior guard Ochai Agbaji and junior guard Christian Braun. Senior forward David McCormack had 25 points on just 12 shots and sophomore forward Jalen Wilson added another 11 points and 12 rebounds in the win.

The Jayhawks lost in the title game in 2012 and were one of the favorites in 2020 before the tournament was canceled due to Covid-19. UNC has won six national titles in its history, including 2005, 2009 and 2017.

UNC and Kansas relied on the steady hands of the upper classes in a sport often defined by star freshmen en route to the NBA.

The Tar Heels showcased the scoring and rebounding prowess of junior forward Armando Bacot, the big man who leads the team with 16 points per game. He had 21 rebounds against Duke on Saturday and 22 against St. Peter’s, as UNC racked up a number of second-chance opportunities. However, Bacot injured his ankle against Duke and could be limited in the title match.

The UNC roster also includes three other players who are averaging at least 13 points per game in senior forward Brady Manek and sophomore guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love. Love was the star of the tournament for UNC and had a team-best 28 points in the win over Duke, including a 3 points off the dribble with 25 seconds left that sealed the victory.

Kansas, meanwhile, relied on the stellar shooting of Agbaji, who shot 41% from 3-point range this season and led the team in scoring with about 19 points per game. The Jayhawks are using an upside down game as they spread out a range of shooters around McCormack’s 6-foot-10 presence in the paint.

They also rely for periods on forward Mitch Lightfoot, a 6th-year senior and role player who, along with 5th-year senior Chris Teahan, are the only remaining players on Kansas’ 2018 Final Four squad. Their presence is only possible because the NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility to all winter sports athletes due to the pandemic.

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