David McCormack hit the two biggest shots of the season for the Kansas Jayhawks down the stretch of their 72-69 win over North Carolina.
It wasn’t enough to make him the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. But the player that did win the award, Ochai Agbaji, conceded that what McCormack gave the Jayhawks down the stretch was too important to ignore.
“If I really had a most outstanding player throughout the entire Final Four it would be David,” Agbaji said.
High praise for a player that has truly had an up-and-down season.
Limited by injuries and, at times, baffling inconsistency, McCormack came through when it truly mattered on Monday.
He ended up with 15 points and 10 rebounds. But those last four points were what made the difference.
The 6-foot-10 forward had a far more difficult matchup on Monday with North Carolina big man Armando Bacot. The pair fought throughout the game and both ended up with double-doubles.
McCormack made the bigger shots down the stretch. Down 69-68 with 1:41 left, Kansas came to the other end looking to take the lead. Head coach Bill Self took a timeout and set up a play to get McCormack a turnaround jumper inside. He missed the shot. But, his dogged pursuit of the rebound over the Tar Heels around him, including Bacot and Brady Manek, led to him scoring off the rebound with 1:21 left.
“Game’s on the line,” McCormack said. “You’ve got adrenaline pumping, you’ve got a desire you’re going to get it. Snatch a rebound with two hands. Coach (Self) talks about keeping the ball high and going right back up. That’s what was going through my mind.”
Kansas needed a break and it got one, though it was an unfortunate one. Bacot drove to the basket off an inbounds pass and ended up re-injuring his right ankle when he slipped on the floor. He turned the ball over but got up and hobbled back to the other end of the floor before officials stopped the game so he could substitute out. He didn’t return.
That brought back-up forward Puff Johnson into the game. Whether it was Johnson or Manek, McCormack had a mismatch he could work with. Self used the stoppage in play to set up another opportunity for McCormack, and this time he made the turnaround jumper with 22 seconds left to give Kansas the 72-69 lead and the game’s final margin.
Two nights after scoring 25 points on Villanova, the points were much harder to come by. But the impact of those points, especially those final two baskets, could be felt all the way back in Lawrence, Kansas.
Those were the two baskets that clinched the Jayhawks’ fourth NCAA national championship. And the laughter that, in the throes of being down 15 points at halftime, seemed out of place at the time, eventually came to pass as a championship banner.
“(McCormack) was looking at me, and I was like, ‘Why are you smiling, dude? We’re down 15,’” Kansas guard Christian Braun said. “He was telling me, like, ‘Keep your head up, keep going, we’ll be all right.’ I was, like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’ve ever been here before.
“Down 15 in a national championship game, I definitely never been there. But we’re just proud of him and he kept us going and then obviously hit a really big shot.”
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.