The Kansas Jayhawks rallied from the biggest deficit in NCAA championship game history to beat North Carolina, 72-69, to win their first national title since 2008.
Kansas fell behind by as many as 16 points in the first half and was down by 15 points at halftime. The largest halftime comeback in title game history was 10 points, and the largest rally from any deficit was by Loyola Chicago, which came back from 15 points to win the 1963 title.
The game came down to the final seconds, as North Carolina had a chance to tie the game with 4.3 seconds left after a Kansas turnover. But, North Carolina’s last-gasp 3-pointer from Caleb Love fell short. Brady Manek slipped under the basket while trying to get to the opposite baseline.
That triggered the Jayhawks’ first celebration on the national championship stage in 14 years.
Five players were in double figures for Kansas — David McCormack and Jalen Wilson each had 15 points, Remy Martin had 14 points, while Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji each had 12 points. Braun also had 12 rebounds, while McCormack had 10 rebounds.
RJ Davis and Armando Bacot each had 15 points for North Carolina, while Brady Manek and Caleb Love had 13 points each, and Puff Johnson added 11. Bacot had 15 rebounds, Manek had 13 rebounds and Davis had 12 rebounds.
Kansas came out on a scorching run to start the second half, outscoring the Tar Heels, 20-6, in the first eight minutes to cut North Carolina’s lead to 46-45. Kansas was shooting 60 percent by that point and the Tar Heels were shooting just 2-of-14 in the first eight minutes.
That basically reset the game for a home stretch against the final two teams standing in March Madness.
Kansas tied the game on an Agbaji 3-point play, making it 50-50. Martin’s baseline 3-pointer gave Kansas the lead, followed by a Wilson 3-point play, set up by a Dajuan Harris Jr. steal and assist. By then, Kansas was up 56-50 with 10 minutes left. The Tar Heels rebounded, tying the game at 57-57 with 7:48 left.
Kansas was up 65-61 with 3:45 left, helped by a 3-pointer and a layup by Martin. But, right at the under-4 timeout, McCormack picked up his fourth foul after a well-played half.
Two free throws by Bacot and two free throws by Manek tied the game at 65-all with 3:06 left.
Martin tossed in a 3-pointer with 2:38 left to give Kansas the lead. But, the Tar Heels answered with a layup from Love and, after a missed 3-pointer by Wilson, a Manek offensive put-back to give UNC a 69-68 lead with 1:42 left.
McCormack gave Kansas the lead back with 1:21 left with an offensive rebound and put-back. At the other end, Martin blocked Love’s shot from behind on a drive. The Tar Heels inbounded to Bacot, who drove to the basket but slipped, re-injured his ankle and turned the ball over. Bacot left the game a few seconds later when he limped to the other end of the floor.
After the time out, McCormack’s turnaround with 22 seconds left gave Kansas a three-point lead. UNC took a pair of 3-pointers to try and tie the game, but neither fell. Then, Manek grabbed the second rebound but threw it out of bounds trying to outlet it to a teammate with four seconds left.
On the inbounds pass, Harris took the pass from Christian Braun but he stepped out of bounds. That gave the Tar Heels their final chance to tie the game and send it to overtime.
With the victory, Kansas (34-6) wins its sixth national championship, the fourth in the NCAA Tournament era and the second under head coach Bill Self. He led the Jayhawks to the 2008 national title.
The first half started much like Kansas’ first half against Villanova — with an Agbaji 3-pointer and a hot start by the Jayhawks. Kansas started the game on a 7-0 run and North Carolina struggled on offense. Bacot struggled to get his football with his injured ankle. Manek struggled after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from McCormack.
But, slowly, the tables turned. Bacot eventually became a factor on the offensive glass and had a double-double by halftime. He also went to the free throw line and made six of them, as the Tar Heels finished the half with a 13-2 edge on Kansas at the free-throw line. Bacot also helped the Heels dominate in second-chance points, as they led that category 18-2 at the break.
Meanwhile, Manek hit back-to-back 3-pointers to break a 22-22 tie with 5:08 left in the first half. From there, the Tar Heels were relentless on offense, as they ended the half on a 18-3 run to grab the 40-25 lead.
In one of the game’s odder notes, both Self and Davis were Williams’ successors at both schools. Self replaced Williams in 2003 when Williams left to take the job at North Carolina. Davis played for the Tar Heels in the 1991 Final Four when Williams, a former UNC assistant, faced off against his mentor, the late Dean Smith. Kansas won that national semifinal showdown.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.