NEW ORLEANS — Kansas ruined North Carolina’s Big Easy night.
The No. 1-seeded Jayhawks (34-6) made history with the biggest comeback in national championship game history – down 16 points in the first half – for a victory of 72-69 in front of 70,000 at the Superdome Monday night.
Kansas broke a record that had stood since 1963 when Chicago’s Loyola came back from a 15-point halftime deficit to beat No. 1 Cincinnati, 60-58, in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team flipping the script like that,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after winning his first national title in Kansas since 2008. “It would be special to win despite anything but to win when your team had to fight back and come back like they did and show a lot of grit makes this one off the charts.
North Carolina (29-10) looked set to win its third national championship in New Orleans and the first for a No. 8 seed since Villanova in 1985 as it took a 38-22 lead at the end of the the first half after a 16-0 run. He took a 40-25 lead into the break with some trips scheduled to Bourbon Street.
But in the Kansas locker room, senior forward David McCormack was smiling.
“I watched my teammates,” he said. “I laughed. Down 15, I said, ‘We’re made for this.’ Go ahead and have fun. That’s exactly what we did.
However, he did not convince everyone.
“I was like, why are you smiling, man? We’re 15 behind,” Kansas goaltender Christian Braun said in the locker room. “I was, like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I ‘ve been here before – down 15 in a national league game.’ Definitely never been there.
Kansas was still down 45-33 with 16:10 to play, but that wouldn’t be denied as they beat the Tar Heels 47-29 in the second half for their fourth national championship. And North Carolina lost for the first time in the Final Four in New Orleans after five straight wins.
“It hurts for us to go this far and miss like this,” said North Carolina guard Caleb Love, who took the last three of the game as promised and could have forced overtime. But he missed it.
“I had the ball, I shot and I missed,” he said.
Kansas looked dead at the end of the first half with a 15-point deficit, but the Jayhawks looked like a new team going into the second half. They immediately went on a 20-6 run to climb to within 46-45 with 12:42 to play on a layup from Braun, who had missed six of his seven shots in the first half. It was Braun’s sixth point in the second half. finished with 12 points – 10 in the second half.
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Then Kansas took a 53-50 lead with 10:21 to play on a three-pointer from guard Remy Martin, who finished with 14 after only a three-pointer conceded in the first half that he didn’t. called. It was the Jayhawks’ first lead since an 18-16 advantage at the nine-minute mark of the first half.
Kansas took a 56-50 lead with 10:08 left on a layup by forward Jalen Wilson, who was fouled and made the free throw. Wilson finished with 15 points after scoring four in the first half. David McCormack also scored 15 for Kansas and grabbed 10 rebounds.
McCormack also took control of the game late, scoring inside after rebounding his own foul for a 70-69 lead with 1:21 remaining and hitting another lay-up with 22 seconds left for the final 72 -69.
“The game is in. You get an adrenaline rush,” he said. “You have the desire to get it. I just prevailed.
Love, meanwhile, was offside. He missed 19 of 24 shots, including seven of his eight three-point shots after scoring 28 in the win over Duke on Saturday with a key late three-pointer.
“It was the national championship,” he said. “I don’t think anyone thought about being tired.”
Kansas goaltender Ochai Agbaji scored 12 goals and was named MVP.
Forward Armando Bacot led North Carolina with 15 points and nine rebounds despite spraining his ankle Saturday. He injured his ankle late in the game and did not return.
Kansas led early 7-0, 11-5 and still held an 18-14 lead just after the 10-minute mark. After Wilson tipped one for Kansas for a 22-22 tie with 6:08 left, the Jayhawks didn’t score again until Agbaji hit a free throw with 2:11 left in the game. half time.
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Meanwhile, North Carolina led a 16-0 run to take a 38-22 lead just before that free throw. Kansas’ only other basket of the half was an Agbaji jumper with 23 seconds left to bring his team 38-25. North Carolina’s Puff Johnson hit a layup just before the buzzer to take a 40-28 lead at the break.
No Kansas player was in double figures at halftime, Agbaji being their leading scorer with eight points.
But they were all about to relax for a party.
“When you let loose and have fun, the game will come to you,” McCormack said. “Offensively, defensively, whatever you need. That’s exactly what we did.
Made the feast.