National Sports: Tar Heels Redeem Themselves in Return to NCAA Championship

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By: Derek E. Gonzales

April 4, 2016

It was of the most memorable moments in NCAA Basketball history. Philadelphia native Ryan Arcidiacono took the inbounds pass in the backcourt with 4.7 seconds left and found Kris Jenkins trailing for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Villanova Wildcats a 77-74 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2016 National Championship. It was the school’s first national championship since 1985 and gave head coach Jay Wright his first championship. As great of a moment as it was, it has a crushing blow to a UNC team who was in hot pursuit of head coach Roy Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater. Seniors Marcus Paige and Bryce Johnson played key roles for the Tar Heels, and Paige tied the game with a miraculous double-clutch 3-pointer before Jenkins out-did him with his own amazing shot.

April 3, 2017

Three hundred and sixty-four days later, back in the same game as a year ago, UNC was looking right the wrong from just a season ago. With essentially the same team back but without the services of Paige and Johnson, they managed to win the South Region and beat an Oregon team who was clicking on all cylinders before running into the Tar Heels. Waiting for them was a Gonzaga Bulldog team who just had one loss all season. Head Coach Mark Few assembled a talented team of homegrown talent and transfer players, such as Nigel Williams-Goss. Having never been to a Final Four in school history, the Zags won the West Region and beat America’s Cinderella in South Carolina in the National Semifinal to reach the final game of the tournament.

Gonzaga led by three at the half but were struggling to get center Przemek Karnowski going. The size and strength of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks kept UNC within striking distance even though Justin Jackson was 0 of 6 from behind the arc. As a team, the Tar Heels shot just 2 of 13 from three, while Gonzaga was shooting an efficient 5 of 9.

The officiating was a storyline in the second half of the game, as 27 fouls were called between the two teams behind in the final half just alone. Neither team was able to gain much of a rhythm, but the game stayed close. It was not until a Kennedy Meeks blocked shot of Williams-Goss while UNC led 68-65 that led to a run out dunk for Jackson clinched the game and title for the Tar Heels.

It was an amazing moment for the 2017 version of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Through the heartbreak of last season, the team found the strength to regroup and fight harder and were able to capture that elusive title and place in UNC history.

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