New Orleans—Down by 15 points at the break (40-25), No. 1 seed Kansas played 20 minutes of Jayhawks basketball in the second half to beat No. 8 seed North Carolina, 72-69 before 69,423 fans, to win the Jayhawks’ fourth national championship and the second of coach Bill Self’s tenure.
It was the fourth championship banner brought back to Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks insisted they’d share it with the 2020 team, too.
“It’s partially won for them,” said coach Bill Self, who has now led Kansas to two of its four titles. “Because I always thought the 2020 team was better, more equipped to do well in the NCAA Tournament.”
Kansas didn’t lose their composure and stuck together as a team. But when you are a mature team, you know how to weather any storms that comes your way.
The Jayhawks’ offense made some adjustments in their offense and scored 47 points after halftime, with forward David McCormack scoring the team’s final four points, including the go-ahead bucket to make it 70-69. The second one put Kansas ahead by three, after North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had to be helped off the court with an right leg injury.
McCormack finished with a team-high 15 points, tied with Jalen Wilson. McCormack, who also had 10 boards, and Christian Braun chipped in with 12 points and 12 rebounds each had a double-double for the contest.
“With the group of guys as experienced as this and been around and know each other so well, it’s kind of hard to see us get rattled,” said Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot, who is in his sixth year of college. “Coach had a great message for us, and he challenged us to be better and to have more pride.”
There was some late drama, as Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. stepped out of bounds in the final seconds — 4.3 to be exact — with the Jayhawks up three points as he tried to avoid North Carolina’s attempts to foul him and extend the contest. The play was reviewed, time was added back on the clock and the Tar Heels took a 30-second timeout.
North Carolina pushed the ball up the court and Love missed a 3-pointer, but Davis grabbed the rebound and passed to Johnson, who missed another trey. Manek grabbed another rebound — the 24th offensive one for the Tar Heels — but tossed the ball out of bounds.
Ochai Agbaji was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four which adds to his All-America title. McCormack played toe-to-toe with North Carolina’s Armando Bacot. The Kansas big man backed him down low on the blocks and score to give the Jayhawks a one point advantage with 1:22 left in the game. On the ensuing possession, Bacot hurt his ankle. That opened it up for McCormack to seal the game with a short jumper over Carolina defender, Brady Manek.
Led by Devon Dotson and first-round NBA pick Udoka Azubuike, that 2020 team was, in fact, a team built to win it all. It was headed for top seeding and the odds-on favorite to win the national championship.
It was a team that never got its chance after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and wiped away the season. But tonight made it right.
Bacot dominated the inside game in the first half and had a 18-2 advantage in second-chance points, the Tar Heels ran off 16 straight points to take a 16-point lead. Kansas looked out of sync in that half.
But in the second half, Self tweaked the defense, getting DaJuan Harris Jr., to apply more pressure early to UNC ballhandler R.J Davis. Kansas closed up passing lanes, forced the Tar Heels into rushed shots and kept them off the glass.
That led to more running, more fast-break points (8) and turned a 16-point deficit into a six-point lead with 10 minutes left. When it was over, Kansas held on and completed the biggest comeback in title-game history, surpassing Loyola-Chicago’s 15-point rally against Cincinnati back in 1963.
North Carolina was led by Davis and Bacot who both had 15 points apiece.
“It would be special to win, regardless,” said Self, who added that he was overwhelmed and spent. “But to win when your team had to fight and come back the way they did and show that much grit makes this one off the charts.