In what has become a recent trend in sports, the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team went from losing in the championship game to winning the following year. The Kansas City Royals lost the World Series in 2014 and then came came to win it 2015. The Cleveland Cavaliers also lost the National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship in 2015 before winning it in 2016. Following a 77-74 to Villanova in the National Championship game last year, the Tar Heels were on track to continue this trend. They did so earlier this month, as they defeated Gonzaga 71-65, capturing their sixth national championship.
Both Gonzaga and North Carolina came into the game as one seeds, with Gonzaga hailing from the West region and North Carolina from the South. North Carolina was the favorite due to their annual dominance in collegiate basketball, however Gonzaga was no underdog as they too are routinely in the tournament. Regardless, it was set to be an interesting game.
To show how closely played this game was, Gonzaga led by seven with about ten minutes to go in the first half. This ended up being the biggest point difference of the entire game. ESPN reported that at the end of the first half, Gonzaga went into the locker room with a 35-32 lead over the Tar Heels.
The second half remained very close as well, with both teams taking the lead and then giving it back up several times. In fact North Carolina took the lead for good with just a minute and forty seconds left on the clock..
While North Carolina ended up winning the game, neither team actually played particularly well. ESPN reports the Tar Heels began the game just 3-13 on three point attempts. They ended up finishing with an abysmal 14.8% conversion rate on three pointers and a 35.6% conversion rate on field goals. In comparison, the Tar Heels as a whole made 46.6% of field goals during the regular season (espn.com). Gonzaga too struggled shooting the ball, which is in effect why they lost the game. Surprisingly, Gonzaga ended the evening with a higher three point shooting percentage (42.1%) than field goal percentage (33.9%).
Guard Joel Berry III led North Carolina to win the National Championship as he finished with twenty-two points, six assists, and two steals. Forward Justin Jackson sixteen points of his own, including the go-ahead basket. For Gonzaga, guard Nigel Williams-Goss led the team with fifteen points, nine rebounds, and six assists.