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Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks entered Monday’s national championship matchup as the betting favorite against the North Carolina Tar Heels but, after 20 minutes of action, Kansas appeared in be in severe trouble. In fact, the Jayhawks trailed by 15 points at the halftime break, one of the five largest margins in title game history, but Kansas roared out of the gate in the second half, evening the score with haste. The Jayhawks then executed down the stretch, outlasting a worthy challenger by a 72-69 margin to give Self a second national title and the Kansas program its fourth national championship in its 16th Final Four appearance.

For the top-seeded Jayhawks, the opening minutes of the game actually went quite well. Kansas scored the first seven points of the night, including a three-pointer by Big 12 Player of the Year Ochai Agbaji on the first possession.

North Carolina did not wither, however, and the remainder of the first half swung in the direction of the Tar Heels. First, North Carolina answered with a 12-4 run, scrapping on both ends of the floor to take the lead for the first time.

The early moments of the half were marked by scattered play by both teams, as both sides were attempting to push the pace but without maintaining requisite efficiency. It was North Carolina that settled in first, utilizing the offensive glass behind Armando Bacot and generating 14 second-chance points in the first 12 minutes.

Kansas did knot the game at 22-22, but veteran big man Brady Manek kickstarted a North Carolina run with back-to-back threes.

Though the Jayhawks attempted to stop the bleeding with multiple timeouts, the Tar Heels scored 16 consecutive points, pushing their lead to 38-22. Kansas failed to score for almost four full minutes and, dating back to the early minutes, it was an extended disaster for the Jayhawks on offense. The No. 1 seed scored only 16 points in the final 17 minutes of the half, going without a field goal for almost six minutes down the stretch. Kansas also opened just 4-of-14 on layup attempts, closing the half on a 6-of-27 shooting drought.

North Carolina took a 15-point edge into halftime as a result, tying the fourth-largest leading margin at halftime in championship game history. With that said, it wasn’t as if the Tar Heels were red-hot from a shooting standpoint. In fact, North Carolina shot just 36 percent from the floor and 3-of-11 from three-point range in the half, but the Tar Heels secured eight offensive rebounds — including four from Bacot on the way to a double-double before halftime — and managed to deter Kansas on the other end.

After the break and with the opportunity to collect themselves, the Jayhawks performed at a much higher level to begin the second half. Kansas immediately put together a 20-6 run, slashing the margin to 46-45 within the first seven minutes of play. Christian Braun, the team’s second-leading scorer for the season, poured in eight points in a hurry, and Jalen Wilson added a three-point play in transition.

During the spurt, a pair of starters — Manek and Leaky Black — entered foul trouble, putting North Carolina further on its heels. Black picked up a fourth foul with nearly 14 minutes to go, and as the best defender for the Tar Heels, his absence was significant. Kansas intentionally pushed the pace with its starters, getting away from a the post-driven offense from the first half and pivoting to a more free-wheeling approach that was effective.

Kansas then threw its biggest haymaker of the night to that point with a 9-0 run in just 45 seconds. Agbaji finished a three-point play to tie the game and, in short order, Remy Martin buried a three-pointer and Wilson picked up another three-point play.

Through the first ten minutes of the second half, the Jayhawks outscored the Tar Heels by a 31-10 margin. That explosion was reminiscent of Kansas’ victory over Miami earlier in the tournament in which the Jayhawks shot 59 percent after halftime and bludgeoned the Hurricanes by a 47-15 margin. Still, North Carolina was not ready to roll over, as reserve wing Puff Johnson enjoyed the sequence of his season with a three-pointer (to tie the game) and a drawn charge on the other end.

Kansas soon took its largest lead since the opening moments. Using three-pointers by Martin and Wilson, the Jayhawks took a four-point advantage and Martin, who struggled mightily in the first half, recaptured the form that made him a highly coveted transfer from Arizona State. In fact, Martin buried another three-pointer off the dribble with 2:39 to go, breaking a tie and giving the Jayhawks a three-point edge.

Yet again, however, North Carolina answered, with Caleb Love and Manek combining for back-to-back buckets to give the Tar Heels the lead. Following a timeout, Kansas big man David McCormack produced a second-chance bucket for the lead with 1:21 left, continuing the back-and-forth feel of the entire second half. On the ensuing possession, Bacot attacked the rim, only to lose the ball as he suffered a rekindling of the ankle injury that plagued him coming into the evening.

After a stoppage, McCormack attacked Manek in the post, with the undeniable reality that Bacot would normally be in the same matchup. McCormack executed well, dropping in a jump hook to take a 72-69 lead.

North Carolina then attempted to tie the game in havoc-filled fashion, but came up empty, seemingly signaling the end of the line for the Heels. However, Kansas committed a turnover on the inbounds pass, with Dajuan Harris Jr. stepping on the sideline to open up another chance for the Tar Heels to tie the game with 4.3 seconds remaining.

In the end, however, the Tar Heels could not pull off the miracle, as a game-tying attempt from Love landed harmlessly on the floor, securing the victory and the national title for Kansas.

Kansas ultimately outscored North Carolina 47-29 in the second half, displaying the team’s considerable upside. Five players finished in double figures for the Jayhawks, with Martin taking on a starring role after halftime and Agbaji and McCormack teaming up for impactful plays as usual. Kansas overcame a 20-rebound deficit and a 20-point hole in second-chance points, but the Jayhawks were simply more effective in converting quality shot attempts, and overall team quality came to the forefront in crunch time.

Just two years ago, Kansas was set to enter the 2020 NCAA Tournament as the betting favorite to win it all, only to have COVID to end the festivities before they began. This time, the Jayhawks zoomed through the Midwest Region and arguably put together their best half of the season to make history as the team overcoming the largest halftime deficit in championship game history.

Source: https://uproxx.com/dimemag/ncaa-tournament-final-kansas-north-carolina-video-highlights/

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