Victory always tastes sweetest after a bitter defeat. One year removed from a heartbreaking loss in the national championship game to the Villanova Wildcats, the North Carolina Tar Heels’ revenge tour finally concluded last night in the form of a 71-65 victory over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in this year’s national final. The victory was the third title in 14 years under the tutelage of legendary head coach Roy Williams’ tenure at the helm of the Heels.

In a game defined by fouls and stoppages of play, the score remained close throughout the entirety of the contest. From the get-go, it was a back-and-forth affair with both the Tar Heels and the Bulldogs shooting poorly from every spot on the floor. Carolina’s star Justin Jackson ‘18 could not get his patented mid-range game going for the Heels while 7-3 Polish giant Przemek Karnowski ‘17 could not buy a shot on the inside.

Senior Josh Perkins led the way for the Zags in the first half as the guard scored all 13 of his points in the game’s first 20 minutes. Gonzaga shot 40 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from beyond the arc in the half. For the Heels, point guard Joel Berry ‘18 posted nine points to carry North Carolina into the break. A dismal shooting performance in the half gave way to Carolina shooting 30.6 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from three as they entered the locker room trailing Gonzaga 35-32.

In the second half, the fouls really started to pile up and the game’s flow was severely disrupted. Twenty-seven fouls in the game’s second 20 minutes showcased what a tightly-called game it was on the biggest stage of college basketball. Nearly 30 free throws later, the game finally reached a solid point of up and down basketball with two minutes remaining and the score knotted at 63.

After guard Nigel Williams-Goss ‘17 gave the Bulldogs a 65-63 lead with just under two minutes remaining, North Carolina went on an 8-0 run to finish out the game. Senior big man Kennedy Meeks made the biggest defensive play of the game when he blocked Goss with the Tar Heels up three which led to an easy dunk in transition for Jackson to stretch the lead to five. Another steal by Meeks and Berry put the finishing touches on the game with a free throw to make the final score 71-65.

After tallying 22 points and six assists in the title game, Berry was tabbed Most Outstanding Player for his incredible performance while hobbled with an ankle injury. Jackson added 16 points while Isaiah Hicks ‘17 added 13 more in the victory. Goss led Gonzaga with 15 points on the night in his final collegiate game while Karnowski, Zach Collins ‘20 and Jonathan Williams ‘18 all chipped in nine points to go along with Perkins’ 13.  

As for the game’s final statistics, Gonzaga shot 33.9 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from three while North Carolina shot 35.6 percent from the field and 14.8 percent from beyond the arc for the game. A statistic that will stay in the back of the Zags’ mind for a while is that the Tar Heels only turned the ball over four times compared to Gonzaga who coughed it up 14 times.

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