Dajuan Harris Jr. scored two points for Kansas in its national championship victory over North Carolina. But his play in the second half was far more important than those two points.
Kansas needed a jolt on both ends of the floor after falling behind by 15 points to North Carolina if it wanted to win its fourth NCAA national championship. Kansas got that jolt on the offensive end from David McCormack, Remy Martin, Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson and Ochai Agbaji.
Harris gave it to them on the defensive end as Kansas won, 72-69.
“It was Dajuan — he sparked it in the second half,” Agbaji said. “Coach (Bill Self) said it in the locker room. Just his defensive pressure rubbed off on everyone else and that’s where we got that momentum from on the defensive end and everything else fell in place on offense.”
Harris was coming off a nine-point game against Villanova. But all season his role has really been playing the starting point guard, running the offense and playing defense. At times he drew Villanova’s Collin Gillespie on Saturday night in the national semifinal. At times on Monday he drew Caleb Love, who had 28 points for the Tar Heels in their semifinal win over Duke.
Harris helped limit Love to 13 points.
Self asked for more intensity in the second half on defense. He got it from everyone, but Harris lit the match.
“And we got, what did we get, three or four stops in a row to start the half?” Self said. “And 15 (points) went to nine like that (snapping fingers) and it was anybody’s game. It was special how Juan triggered that to start the second half.”
Harris set the tone with an early blocked shot in the second half. But what really did it was his steal with 12:48 left in the second half. At the time, Kansas was nearly over the hump, down three points. Harris picked RJ Davis’s pocket, got Kansas moving to the other end and eventually the ball got to Braun, who drove for a basket to cut the lead to a single point.
Two minutes later, Harris had another steal and led the break, feeding Wilson for a layup. He drew a foul and his free throw gave Kansas a 55-50 lead.
Harris ended up with a team-leading three steals, which turned out to be far more important than his one basket.
I just wanted to go. I didn’t want to lose,” Harris said. “I just wanted to give it my all for them. That’s all it was.”
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.