The North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship on Monday night after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs 71-65 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
The Heels became just the fourth team to win the national championship after losing in the final the previous year. The loss by Gonzaga was just its second all season, while the North Carolina win was its sixth national championship for its basketball program.
A series of big plays in the clutch during the final minute allowed North Carolina to extend its lead and then hold on to win. With only 26 seconds to play, Isaiah Hicks scored to give the Heels a lead of three points.
A block by Kennedy Meeks, a pass to Justin Jackson that he dunked and a steal by Meeks on the next possession by Gonzaga sealed the championship.
Joel Berry II, who played the entire tournament with two sprained ankles, led the scoring of both teams with 22 points. He was also named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player following the game.
Officiating and fouls called played a big part of the game. Frequent whistles hurt the flow of the game. For example, in the championship game last year between North Carolina and Villanova, 36 total fouls were whistled, while on Monday the total reached 44.
A number of quick whistles following halftime put each team into the bonus with over 14 minutes to play. Zach Collins a 7-footer for Gonzaga was whistled for his fourth foul with almost 16 minutes remaining on the clock and Przemek Karnowski was whistled for his fourth with just over 8 minutes remaining.
Meeks and Hicks each ended the game for North Carolina with four fouls. However, Collins, who is considered to be a NBA prospect, played just six minutes during the second half and 14 in all due to foul trouble for Gonzaga.
During the final minute of play a jump-ball call under the basket was made, but replays showed that Kennedy had his hand touching the out of bounds while battling for possession.
The call of jump ball gave possession to North Carolina who at the time was leading 66-65. The Heels ran off six straight points after than while Gonzaga never scored the remainder of the game.
Regardless of the calls, the game was very close with 12 leads changes and 11 ties, but a 9-2 run at the end gave the title to North Carolina.