North Carolina Back on Top

The North Carolina Tar Heels are national champions for the 6th time in their history! The Tar Heels were able to redeem themselves from their National Championship loss last year to Villanova, and power through for another championship banner in Chapel Hill.

In the first half, both teams started fast but couldn’t hit shots. Gonzaga ran out to a 21-14 lead, before Carolina’s Joel Barry II hit a three-pointer, and Justin Jackson put in a second chance basket. That pulled North Carolina within two. Gonzaga held a two-point lead, but both teams stayed neck and neck with each other for the next few minutes. Josh Perkins gave Gonzaga a huge boost with 4 minutes left in the first half, when he sank a deep three-pointer. That shot gave the Bulldogs a 28 to 21 lead over Carolina. NC rebounded with two minutes remaining in the half, and the scoreboard read 30-28 in favor of Gonzaga. Gonzaga’s Silas Melson was then able to sink a corner 3, and pushed the Zags to a 33-28 lead. A speedy first half came to a close with Gonzaga making 2 free throws, and North Carolina missing a last second buzzer beater. At the end of one, Gonzaga led 35 to 32.

In the first half, Josh Perkins was the key to the Gonzaga offense. Perkins was able to hit from outside, as he recorded 13 points, which led all scorers at the half. Gonzaga big-man Przemek Karnowski was able to get shots down low, but he was unable to knock them down in the first half. North Carolina’s biggest playmaker was Joel Barry II. Barry scored 9 points on 2-of-5 three pointers, and 2-of-6 from the floor in the first period. Tar Heels’ Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks combined for only 10 point in the first half. Although, Meeks and Jackson excelled on the boards, as Meeks pulled in 5 rebounds, and Jackson pulled in 3 during the opening half.

To start the final half, North Carolina came out firing on all cylinders. The Tar Heels forced two straights turnovers, and took the lead 36-35 after Justin Jackson sank two free throws. With a little over 18 minutes remaining Kennedy Meeks kept NC’s momentum going with a put back layup, and a 38-35 lead. Gonzaga coach Mark Few had seen enough and called a timeout with around 17 minutes remaining, and the score reading 40-35 in favor of North Carolina. Gonzaga buried a clutch corner three-pointer off an inbounds play with over 16 minutes left, and the Bulldogs retook a 41-40 lead. Mark Few’s timeout proved to be very valuable. Gonzaga’s Karnowski kept Gonzaga’s momentum rolling with under 15 minutes, when he put in a second-chance basket, and pushed Gonzaga to a 43-40 lead. Both teams fouled heavily and within the first 6 minutes of the 2nd half, both teams were in the bonus. Joel Barry II sank a big three-pointer and gave NC back a 47-45 lead with 12:21 remaining. Both teams exchanged leads between the overabundance of fouls. The Tar Heels took a 1 point lead into the media timeout with 10:51 remaining in the National Championship. Gonzaga’s Collins and Karnowski found themselves in foul trouble and both sat on the bench with around 10 remaining. The fouling continued, and the flow of the game was halted with all of the fouls during the middle of the second period. North Carolina went on a short run with about 6 minutes left, made a shot at the end of the shot clock, and took a 56-52 lead. The crowd got back in it, and both teams exchanged punches. Gonzaga big-man Zach Collins fouled out with 5 minutes remaining, he finished the day with 9 points. The Zags hit a game breaking three-pointer to take the lead. Then the Tar Heels hit a retaliation three-pointer to take a 62-60 lead with just over 3 minutes remaining. Nigel Williams-Goss created a play for himself, and retook a 63-62 lead for the Zags with a hair over 2 minutes remaining. Williams-Goss made the majority of Gonzaga’s points going down the stretch. Justin Jackson came alive down the stretch for the Tar Heels and powered in a three-point play to swing the lead back to NC with a little over 1 and a half remaining. Isiah Hicks drove and laid up a two-pointer, that give the Tar Heels the lead with 22 seconds left. Kennedy Meeks proved to be the MVP for the Tar Heels, blocking the last chance Gonzaga had, which led to a wide open basket, and a 70-65 lead. After a Joel Barry II free throw, Gonzaga missed a three, and the clock ticked off the final seconds of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship, with the Tar Heels on top. NC went on a 9-2 run to close out the game, and clinch the win.

The top performers overall had to be Joel Barry II, Justin Jackson, and Isiah Hicks for North Carolina. Joel Barry II, the Final Four MVP, scored 22 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists, while knocking down 4 three-pointers. Justin Jackson scored 16 points for the Tar Heels, while adding 9 rebounds, and 2 assists. Isiah Hicks also made a big impact for the Tar Heels, with his 13 points, 9 rebounds, and an assist.

Despite the loss, Gonzaga’s best performers were Nigel Williams-Goss, and Josh Perkins. Williams-Goss contributed 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. Perkins helped the Bulldogs with his 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists.

After all is said and done, the confetti settles, and the crowd dwindles, all that matters is that the North Carolina Tar Heels won. They were able to overcome, redeem themselves, and come out as national champions.

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