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Justin Jackson.

Off the cuff: It will be interesting to see how this championship game goes down in history. Will it be remembered more as redemption for a tough last-second loss in the finals the year before? Or will it be remembered as an ugly game that got no flow because of referees blowing their whistles too much.

Most Carolina fans will probably be in the former camp but people just watching the game around the nation may think the latter.

The Tar Heels, despite poor shooting from the field and the free throw line, again found a way to win. This time it was tough defense, coupled with another late run.

If you were told that Justin Jackson would miss all nine of his three-point shot attempts, you'd figure that UNC would have lost. Combine that with Kennedy Meeks, the hero of the semi-final game, being in heavy foul trouble and you have a recipe for disaster.

But Gonzaga wasn't shooting well either and the Zags had several players in foul trouble. It was a strangely officiated game as touch fouls were called while body-bangs and push offs were often ignored.

The matchup of two teams each with strong, big inside players and penetrating guards may have been different than any other game the officials called this year.

I don't think the outcome would have been different had the game been called better but it certainly would have been a more enjoyable game.

For Tar Heel fans, about the only thing enjoyable about that game was the last 25 seconds when Isaiah Hicks scored on a nice drive to the hoop and Jackson scored on a dunk.

You certainly can't say that UNC didn't close games this year. The Heels scored the last 12 points in a tournament win over Arkansas. They went on a 12-0 run against Kentucky as well. And in this game, the Heels scored the final eight points of the game.

Joel Berry said, during the final media timeout with 3:08 left, that Assistant Coach Steve Robinson reminded the team about that moment in last year's game and how they don't want to feel that way again.

"We came out locked in," Berry said.

After wrapping up the win with a dunk in the closing seconds, Jackson said he had all kinds of emotions running through him. "I wanted to yell out as loud as I could but I had nothing in me."

In 2017, Carolina proved it was a tough, focused team that found a way to win and left it all on the court.


I've been saying that Carolina's free throw shooting could be the Tar Heels' downfall. As it turned out, it may have worked to their advantage to miss those free throws against Oregon.

Had Meeks hit both free throws, giving Carolina a three-point, Oregon could have tied it with a three and forced overtime. Had Meeks missed the first free throw and hit the second, the Heels would have been up by two and a last-second three - like what happened last year - could have ended Carolina's season.

Same scenario when Berry missed his two free throws less than two seconds later. Pinson's tip out was a thing of beauty - right to Berry. And Meeks' rebound, with his big paw getting in there, sealed the victory.

Oregon didn't play it well but Pinson and Meeks deserve the credit for sealing the victory.

When Joel Berry hit a three seconds into the game, I thought it was over already. The big question was how Berry would play with the two bad ankles. Unfortunately for the Heels, that opening shot was an anamoly as Berry didn't hit another field goal until he scored one with 5:50 left in the game. Along the way he missed four of his nine free throws too.

Can the Tar Heels get through one more game without a healthy Berry playing well or an unhealthy Berry playing even just below average offensively? Probably not without another career performance from someone - like what Meeks did against the Ducks.

Carolina shot only about 37 percent from the floor as a team but Oregon shot only 38 percent. The Tar Heels offensive rebounds allowed them a few more shots and the Heels capitalized on 16 Duck turnovers, including 12 in the first half.

Of concern was Hicks' poor play - not just his shooting but a couple of bad turnovers and only three rebounds in 20 minutes.

Recent hero Luke Maye fell off the radar again as he missed all three of his shots in 13 minutes of play.

Unheralded bright spots including Nate Britt, who was a stablizing force in his 22 minutes of play. He hit a big three, had three assists and didn't turn the ball over.

Pinson didn't shoot well but he did score eight points, and had eight rebounds, five assists, a blocked shot and only one turnover.

Gonzaga will have bigger men to deal with inside and if the Zags hit some outside shots, the Tar Heels are going to be in trouble - unless they find another way to win... again.



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UNC 2017 National Champions
Tar Heels get redemption in gritty slugfest
A year after getting a kick in the gut in the final second of the NCAA Tournament title game, North Carolina got redemption with a tough slugfest victory over Gonzaga to give the Tar Heels their sixth national championship, 71-65. (4/3)

As has been the trend this season, the Tar Heels found a way to win and was able to close out the game.

Down 65-63 with less than two minutes to play, Carolina indeed closed out the game with an 8-0 run.

Justin Jackson, who had missed all nine of his three-point attempts, came up with an old-fashioned three-point play inside, following a sharp pass from Theo Pinson, with 1:40 left to give the Tar Heels a 66-65 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss, who had scored 15 points, missed a jumper. Pinson got the rebound for Carolina. The Tar Heels burned clock but couldn't score. Kennedy Meeks was able to get a tie up, giving the possession back to the Heels with 49 seconds left.

The Heels burned the clock and Isaiah Hicks drove the lane to bang one in at the end of the shot clock, giving Carolina a 68-65 advantage.

Williams-Goss drove in the lane but Meeks came up with a block. Joel Berry recovered the ball and threw ahead to Jackson for a dunk to all but wrap it up at 70-65 with seconds remaining.

Meeks stole a desperation pass and Berry was fouled. After a timeout to re-gain his composure, he hit one of two free throws before the celebration began.

"Forget my shooting - we're national champions!," said Jackson, who did manage to score 16 points.

But it was Berry, still not 100 percent after two turned ankles, who led way with 22 points on his way to the Most Outstanding Player award of the Final Four.

"It's been a hard road," Berry said. "Now we can forget about last year."

Senior Nate Britt said the team talked about this day and this feeling for quite some time. "We set a goal and we achieved our dream to get back and make it happen," he said.

UNC coach Roy Williams said there is no better feeling for a coach than to see his "kids jump around" after a national championship win. Still, he said it didn't take away the pain of last year because Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James didn't get to experience the feeling.

It was a frustrating feeling for much of the game as the officials called 44 fouls, including 11 in the first four-plus minutes of the second half. Neither team could get any flow on the offense.

As poorly as Carolina shot, less than 36 percent, the Heels held Gonzaga to 34 percent shooting. It was the first time this year that a team shot better than Gonzaga, which finishes the season 37-2.

"Neither team played very well but both teams played really hard," Coach Williams said. He did praise his team's second half defense after giving the Zags too many open threes in the first half when Gonzaga took at 35-32 lead at the break.

He admittedly blessed his team out at the half and reminded them that the Heels led by five at the half in last year's finals and Villanova came out hungrier and wound up winning.

This year, Carolina scored the first eight points of the second half, highlighted by four points and an assist by Berry.

But Gonzaga came back to take a 43-40 lead, and the lead went back and forth setting up a hectic and emotional last few minutes. There were 12 lead changes and 11 ties during the game.

With Carolina holding a 59-57 lead and less than five minutes remaining, the Tar Heels seemingly got the ball back with a lead. But officials, incorrectly, ruled that a Williams-Goss three-point shot went off Pinson's hand out of bounds. After giving the ball back to Gonzaga, Williams-Goss knocked in a three, giving the Zags a 60-59 lead with 4:30 left.

Seconds later, Berry drained a three to give the lead back to Carolina at 62-60.

Another Williams-Goss bucket put Gonzaga up 65-63 with 1:50 left, setting up Carolina's 8-0 run that gave the Heels the title.

"Isaiah knocked in a big shot and Kennedy got a big block," said Berry, who said he almost started to cry after he threw it to Jackson for the game-clinching dunk.

Hicks, who scored 13, said that the feeling was 180 degrees different from last year. "What we worked for was finally here. It's surreal," he said.

Carolina finishes the season of redemption at 33-7. There will be a celebration at the Smith Center at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Box Score

Check out highlights here.

UNC finds a (new) way to get to title game
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said it's amazing to get to national championship for a second straight year and the Tar Heels found a new way to get there - by missing free throws. (4/1)

"Relieved, lucky, fortunate but we're still playing," Coach Williams said.

With a one-point lead, the Tar Heels missed four free throws in the last six seconds but twice were able to get the ball back to run out the time and defeat Oregon 77-76 to advance to Monday night's title game against Gonzaga.

After a hobbled Joel Berry hit a three from the right wing to put the Heels up 71-62 with 5:50 left, Carolina didn't score a field goal the rest of the way.

The Heels hit six of eight free throws to go up 77-71 with less than a minute to go.

But Oregon's Tyler Dorsey, who led the Ducks with 22 points, hit a big three that banged on the iron four times before falling in with 42 seconds left to make it a one-possession game at 77-74.

Carolina ran the clock down before Theo Pinson missed a shot with time running down. Oregon rushed it up and scored a bucket to make it 77-76 with six seconds to go.

On the inbounds, Kennedy Meeks, who had been the hero of the game for the Heels, was fouled and went to the line for two free throws. He missed them both but Pinson was able to knife in to knock the ball out to Berry, who was fouled with four seconds left.

And, Berry, who hits 81 percent of his foul shots, missed both of them. This time Meeks reached in and grabbed the rebound, throwing it out to Pinson who dribbled out the clock.

Meeks scored a season-high 25 points and hauled in a game-high 14 rebounds to lead the Heels. With Berry hitting only two of 14 shots and with fellow big man Isaiah Hicks having perhaps his worst game of the season by scoring a mere one of 12, Coach Williams said Carolina "needed Kennedy to score more today."

He not only scored a lot of points, he scored a lot of big points. Carolina trailed 30-22 in the first half - the Heels largest deficit of the game and in the NCAA Tournament - before going on a 17-6 run.

During the run, Meeks got open inside and Nate Britt found him for a bucket that gave the Tar Heels a 37-36 lead. Carolina never trailed again.

Up 39-36 at the half, the Heels extended the margin to eight after Justin Jackson hit a three in transition after three minutes to the second half to make it 46-38.

Free throws by Jackson after a steal gave Carolina a nine-point lead at 56-47 with under 13 minutes to go.

A Meeks bucket inside, on a dish from Pinson, gave the Heels their largest lead of the game at 66-56 with 8:30 to go. It never got down to a one-possession game until the hectic last minute.

Other than the tp out and rebound in the closing seconds, Coach Williams pointed to Meeks and Jackson making the difference. "Kennedy contributed everything inside and Justin made three big threes in the second half," he said. Jackson finished with 22 points.

Coach Williams was also happy with Carolina's defense, particularly in the second half, but he noted that Oregon didn't shoot as well as the Ducks normally do plus the Heels fouled to send Oregon to the line. As a result, the Ducks hit 15 of 16 free throws down the stretch to stay in it, making it ironic that Carolina's missed free throws may have actually helped the Heels.

The Tar Heels practice offensive rebounding on missed free throws and tip-out drills every day, Coach Williams said.

In order to beat Gonzaga Monday night, he knows the Tar Heels need to play better though rather than relying on new ways to win.

"Joel didn't play very well but he got through the game without hurting his ankle," Coach Williams said. "I'm hoping he plays better Monday night."

Carolina, now 32-7, plays Gonzaga for the national championship Monday starting at 9:20 p.m.

Box Score

Meeks shoots and scores against Oregon.
(UNC Sports Information photo by J.D. Lyon Jr./@tarheel_photo)

Maye enters UNC lore with game winner

2016-17 UNC Season Preview

Watch for a midseason UNC Report Card

Read about any UNC basketball game since 2007-2008

Other old archived headlines:
2012-2013 UNC basketball season preview
2010-2011 season began with Late Nite with Roy

ESPN blows it - What were they thinking?
Read about UNC's 2010 football bowl win
Readers weighed in on Tar Heels' 2009-2010 troubles
Shorthanded Heels get big game from freshmen in opener
Season Review: UNC baseball had one of its best years in 2008
Carolina basketball's run ends after comeback falls short
Tar Heels run out of gas against Fresno State
Season Review: Carolina ends season where it wanted - in Omaha

Flack does it in the clutch again as Tar Heels fight on
Federowicz heroics keep UNC alive in College World Series
Carolina in the College World Series again
UNC is one win away from third straight trip to the World Series

Carolina baseball advances to host Super Regional starting Saturday
Heels defeats UNC-Wilmington 7-3 with five-run inning
UNC's wins over Miami vault Heels to No. 1 in the nation
Carolina baseball reaches 40-game win mark
Tar Heels take two of three from Florida State

Also, check out my articles for the UNC alumni Web site on Carolina's 8-4 win over LSU, the 5-3 loss to Fresno State, the 7-3 win over LSU, the 4-3 victory over Fresno State and the season-ending loss to Fresno State.

© 2017 CB3media Cary, NC


Heel Prints reviewed each UNC game
As a student sports editor years ago, prior to the season, Clifton Barnes predicted a national championship for the Tar Heels and indeed they won. In fact he wrote his lede paragraph for the national championship game almost a year early. He regrets that he didn't keep a journal after each game. He kept a journal after each game of the 2007-2008 season and you can reach them here. At the request of readers, he has kept up his journal of each game ever since. He also has written about UNC baseball and wrote an analysis after each 2008 UNC football game.


Editor's Note: HeelPrints chronicled the UNC basketball, baseball and football seasons for 2008 and 2009. Since the vast majority of comments I get about the site relate to basketball and since this isn't a paying job for me, I decided to limit my coverage and analysis to basketball. Baseball and football will remain archived and if I have comments or opinions I want to make on those or any other sports at UNC, I will make them here on the front page and then archive them in the corresponding sports section. Thanks for all the positive comments I have received about the site. Should I get sponsorship in the future, I will reconsider adding baseball and football again. Ironically, my favorite sports to watch in person are baseball and football. But my first connections to UNC came from watching Dean Smith's basketball teams on TV or listening to them on the radio in the days before all the games were televised. It should come as no surprise that people pay more attention to the basketball coverage. Thanks for your interest in this site.