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UNC Holds off Gonzaga 71-65 to Win 6th NCAA Championship

Featured Columnist April 4, 2017 Comments Comment Bubble Icon

North Carolina lost last year’s national title game to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater. But the Tar Heels were the ones dancing as the confetti fell this year.

Basketball royalty reigned supreme Monday, as North Carolina added to its illustrious history with a 71-65 victory over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2017 national championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

The Tar Heels’ victory marked their sixth national title—which ranks third all time behind UCLA and Kentucky—and first since the 2008-09 campaign. It was also the program’s third championship under coach Roy Williams. The Bulldogs (37-2) made their first Final Four but couldn’t eclipse North Carolina (33-7) on the marquee stage.

North Carolina continued an extended run of excellence:

Bleacher Report @ BleacherReport

Decades of excellence for UNC. https://t.co/YdZTHcACdA

The Tar Heels were the No. 1 seed in the South Region and beat No. 16-seeded Texas Southern, No. 8-seeded Arkansas, No. 4-seeded Butler, No. 2-seeded Kentucky and Midwest Region No. 3 seed Oregon to reach Monday’s clash, and players such as junior guard Joel Berry II, junior forward-guard Justin Jackson and senior forward Kennedy Meeks cemented their status in North Carolina lore with the title.

Jackson and Meeks made clutch plays for North Carolina at winning time after Nigel Williams-Goss scored eight straight Gonzaga points to put his team up 65-63 with less than two minutes remaining.

Jackson converted an and-1 to seize the lead for good, and Meeks blocked Williams-Goss with the Tar Heels up three and just 15 seconds on the clock. The swat led to a Jackson dunk in the open floor that all but sealed the win. For good measure, Meeks notched a steal on the ensuing Bulldogs possession.

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Those plays helped North Carolina join an exclusive club, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

ESPN Stats & Info @ ESPNStatsInfo

North Carolina: 4th team to win title after finishing runner-up prior season; previous was Kentucky in 1998

Jackson and Meeks may have played the roles of late-game heroes, but Berry led all players with 22 points:

North Carolina Leaders
Player Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Field Goals
Joel Berry II 22 3 6 2 1 7-of-19
Justin Jackson 16 4 3 1 2 6-of-19
Isaiah Hicks 13 9 1 1 2 5-of-9
Kennedy Meeks 7 10 0 2 2 3-of-5
Source: ESPN.com

Williams-Goss scored 15 points but didn’t receive much offensive help. Josh Perkins was the only other Gonzaga player to score in double figures, and he tallied all 13 of his points in the first half.

Despite the late drama, the majority of the game could only be described as ugly. There were 44 combined fouls and just 46 made field goals, and the victorious Tar Heels shot an abysmal 4-of-27 from three-point range (14.8 percent). The Bulldogs shot just 33.9 percent from the field, and star big man Przemek Karnowski finished a mere 1-of-8.

The officials played a major part in the game, as four players were whistled for four fouls apiece and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins fouled out. Also, Isaiah Hicks’ basket that put North Carolina ahead 68-65 in the final minute came after Meeks’ hand appeared to be out of bounds while he tied up Silas Melson for possession of the ball.

What’s more, Karnowski was whistled for a flagrant foul for making contact with Berry’s neck on the same play Berry was called for a common foul. The Associated Press (h/t Dallas Morning News) reported the sequence resulted in “booing from every corner of the massive Phoenix University Stadium.”

The Bulldogs’ No. 1 defense in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted rankings set the tone for the majority of the first half, and Gonzaga built a 35-32 lead.

The Tar Heels struggled to penetrate against the Bulldogs’ size and settled for quick perimeter jumpers. The sight of Karnowski in front of the rim was likely intimidating, as ESPN The Magazine‘s Mina Kimes analogized:

karnowski looks like the first of ten guys james bond has to fight before he can get to the main villain

With Gonzaga protecting the paint, North Carolina shot a mere 2-of-13 from deep and 30.6 percent overall in the first half. But the Bulldogs didn’t extend their advantage on the other end because Karnowski missed all four of his shots, as ESPN’s Maximiliano Bretos noted:

Maximiliano Bretos @ mbretosESPN

Karnowski shooting. #nationalchampionship https://t.co/QEsiMqhdRC

Meanwhile, Perkins carried the Gonzaga offense, which probably caught the Tar Heels off guard considering he went scoreless in the Bulldogs’ Final Four victory over South Carolina:

The second half started in ominous fashion for Gonzaga even though it bounced back from North Carolina’s opening 8-0 run with an 8-0 spurt of its own. Collins picked up his third and fourth fouls in the opening five minutes, which put more pressure on the struggling Karnowski.

Those whistles were part of the foul fest, and both teams found themselves in the bonus before the under-12-minute timeout.

NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade described the scene:

Man I can’t watch this anymore man! I would like to see the kids decide who wins the game! I mean Bruh!! Smh

Let these kids play. Put the whistles away.

With so many fouls—which also included Meeks’ fourth with 9:42 to play—neither team established a rhythm, and the players continued to throw up bricks. That allowed the Bulldogs to survive Collins’ absence for the majority of the second half, though Karnowski and Johnathan Williams also picked up their fourth fouls.

Between the foul-induced frontcourt attrition and poor shooting, momentum was not on either squad’s side heading into the closing stretch.

Williams-Goss temporarily seized it for the Bulldogs when he went into takeover mode on the offensive end, but Jackson’s and-1, Hicks’ controversial basket and Meeks’ defense were too much for Gonzaga to overcome in crunch time.

Postgame Reaction

ESPN College Basketball shared video of the celebration in Chapel Hill, North Carolina:

NCAA March Madness passed along postgame comments by Meeks and Berry:

NCAA March Madness @ marchmadness

“It just shows how hard we worked.” – National Champion Kennedy Meeks https://t.co/1LUtf4yWRI

NCAA March Madness @ marchmadness

“We finally got what we wanted!” – National Champion Joel Berry II https://t.co/fcVfMmfNKr

“It was a slugfest out there,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, per Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News. “It’s two teams that desperately wanted to be crowned national champion. And I think to be so close for us is a temporarily crushing blow right now.”

North Carolina lost last year's national title game to Villanova on Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beater. But the Tar Heels were the ones dancing as the confetti fell this year…

Top 5 North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball Teams That Never Won a Championship

The Tar Heels have had many legendary basketball teams on the court over the past years, and many of those teams went on to win a national championship. The Heels won national championships in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and most recently in 2009.

Though most programs in the country would love the idea of just one championship, the Tar Heels, in my humble opinion, should have more championship banners hanging in their rafters.

Without further ado, I give you the five teams that should have brought home the title to Franklin Street.

No. 5: 1993-1994 North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC Tournament Champions

Lost to Boston College 75-72 in Second Round of NCAA Tournament

The ’94 Tar Heels had a fantastic squad with huge, powerful senior big man Eric Montross in the middle and diaper dandy freshmen Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. The Heels also had seasoned veterans in Brian Reese, Derrick Phelps and Kevin Salvadori, as well as developing sophomore Dante Calabria.

The Heels swept Duke that year and won the ACC Tournament, beating Wake Forest in OT and then Virginia. The Heels were upset in the second round by Boston College.

No. 4: 1976-1977 North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC Regular Season Champions

ACC Tournament Champions

Lost 67-59 to Marquette in the national championship

The 1976 and ’77 Tar Heels were led by a silky All-American guard by the name of Phil Ford and a imposing center by the name of Tommy LaGarde. The Heels swept Duke and won the regular season and tournament championships of the ACC. The Heels were heavily favored in the championship game against Marquette but were upset 67-59.

No. 3: 1994-95 North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC Regular Season Champions

Lost 75-68 to Arkansas in the Final Four

This team had the best starting five in the country. They had national player of the year Jerry Stackhouse and fellow All-American Rasheed Wallace at forward with center Serge Zwikker. The backcourt was also not too shabby with guards Dante Calabria and Jeff McInnis.

The Heels were extremely talented and should have won the ACC tournament, but Randolph Childress had one of the greatest performances in ACC tournament history, beating the Heels in OT 82-80.

The Heels were taken out in the Final Four by Arkansas.

No. 2: 1997-98 North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC Regular Season Champions

Lost 65-59 to Utah in the Final Four

This Heels squad is probably my favorite team of all time. They had Vince Carter and national player of the year Antawn Jamison at forward. They had a pass first guard in Ed Cota. They had a sweet shooter in Shammond Williams, and they had amazing frontcourt depth in Makhtar Ndiaye and Ademola Okulaja. The Heels were also returning an almost completely intact squad from their Final Four run the year before.

The Heels won their first 17 games before losing in overtime to Maryland in the regular season and beat Duke in the ACC championship by 15 points en route to the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This team should have annihilated the competition on route to the championship but was upset by Utah in the Final Four.

One thing that needs to be mentioned is that Shammond Williams, I think, singlehandedly lost the Final Four games in ’97 and ’98. The kid just kept shooting the rock with abysmal results, and he killed his teams two years in a row.

No. 1: 1983-84 North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC Regular Season Champs

Lost 72-66 to Indiana in the Sweet 16

Oh, what should have been. This Heels team is one of the best teams ever, period. The Heels had the greatest player in the country in Michael Jordan and had five future first-round picks in Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith and Joe Wolf.

The three games they lost during the whole season, including the ACC and NCAA tournament, were by a combined total of seven points. They demolished the competition in the regular season, only losing on the road to Arkansas by one. They were undefeated in ACC regular season play. It took a miracle on Duke’s part to upset them in the ACC tournament.

The Heels lost in the round of 16 to Indiana, 72-68.

The Tar Heels have had many legendary basketball teams on the court over the past years, and many of those teams went on to win a national championship. The Heels won national championships in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and most recently in 2009… ]]>