It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the history books won’t pay that much mind. What will be remembered, is that the North Carolina Tar Heels — just a year removed from one of the greatest heartbreaks in the history of college sports — rallied from a first-half deficit to defeat the Gonzaga Bulldogs 71-65 to claim the sixth title in school history.
In case you missed it (note: you’re lucky if you missed the middle 10 minutes of the second half), here’s how it all went down in Glendale, Arizona on Monday night.
1. Sluggish Start For UNC… And Przemek Karnowski
At the outset of the game the Gonzaga Bulldogs looked like the better team. They out-rebounded one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and routinely got open looks on the offensive end. UNC also struggled on the inside, most notably Kennedy Meeks, who absolute crushed the Oregon Ducks in the Final Four. Meeks was held to just four points on 2-of-4 shooting, including going 0-for-2 from the free throw line.
UNC star Justin Jackson also struggled mightily and chucked up some questionable shots throughout the half. He went 3-of-10 from the field and was 0-for-6(!) from the three-point line. We’re talking about a guy who averaged 18.3 points per game here and shot 38 percent from behind the arc.
Uncharacteristic to say the least.
Nearly as shocking as the offensive struggles UNC had in the first half were the struggles of Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski has been a leader for the Bulldogs all season long but was ice cold in the first half with Meeks in his face.
Karnowski missed numerous open looks under the basket and went 0-for-4 from the field. Most shockingly, however, Karnowski passed up open looks from mid-range that he usually drains in his sleep in an effort to get to the basket or to pass to teammates.
2. Whistles And Fouls And Turnovers, Oh My
The drama was high for the entire second half as the score remained tight, but boy was there some poor basketball being played (and officiated) all around. Both teams entered into bonus with about 15 minutes to play in the second half as foul trouble abounded.
Whistles broke up any semblance of a rhythm that either team may have had and made shooting from the field and any offensive flow seem impossible for both sides.
Gonzaga field goals made – 20
Gonzaga fouls – 23
North Carolina field goals made – 23
North Carolina fouls – 26
Twitter, as it tends to do, took notice.
3. Joel Berry II Overcomes Injuries, Wins MOP (Most Outstanding Player)
On a night where shooters struggled severely, it was Joel Berry II — two bad ankles and all — who took home the Most Outstanding Player honor thanks to clutch shooting from behind the arc.
Berry led all scorers with 22 points and added three rebounds, and six assists, finishing the night 7-of-19 from the field, including 4-of-13 from three-point range.
What makes Berry’s performance even more impressive is the fact that he was forced to sit out of the team’s Sunday practice with injuries to both ankles.
Luckily for the Tar Heels, their junior guard was able to suit up as he would prove to be a difference-maker on Monday night.
4. Justin Jackson Comes Up Clutch
Un-clutch could have been the best way to describe Justin Jackson’s performance for much of the night. Jackson, one of the best players in college basketball all year, finished the first half 3-of-10 from the field and went 0-for-6 from three-point land.
While he finished 0-for-9 from three-point range and took more than a few ill-advised shots, he came up clutch in the game’s final two minutes with a strong finish for an and-one opportunity that he converted to give his team the lead for good.
While Isaiah Hicks’ bucket extended the Tar Heels’ lead to three points and Kennedy Meeks’ block and dish to Jackson sealed the deal, Jackson’s initial bucket was the game-changer that North Carolina needed to put the pesky Zags away for good.
5. Roy Williams Passes An Icon
Humbly, Williams told reporters after the game that he didn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the iconic Dean Smith, but he might want to get used to it. Williams’ third national championship puts him in rarefied air alongside coaches Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight and puts him one national championship victory ahead of Smith (2).
Williams, at age 66, is also the same age that Smith was when he called it a career at North Carolina. Smith reportedly told Williams not to step away from the game at such a young age as he did, and surely all Tar Heels fans are hoping that coach Williams heeds that advice in the wake of yet another national championship victory.