Dramatic Kansas comeback caps another huge win for host New Orleans
With an unmistakable history of great national championship games, the stage was set for another in New Orleans Monday night.
It looked for a while like the game would be a big letdown but in the final analysis, it lived up to expectations.
In fact, it was historic.
Kansas completed the biggest comeback ever in a championship game when trailing at the half, overcoming North Carolina 72-69.
North Carolina led by 16 points at one point and led by 15 at halftime. No one had ever rallied from that far down to win a national title.
Kansas started just as it did against Villanova, taking a 7-0 lead and it looked like the Jayhawks may repeat that performance and go wire-to-wire.
Instead, the Jayhawks ran into a wire of wiry North Carolina stars who stifled them at every turn.
Yes, Kansas had some good opportunities at the basket and a few open shots from deep and could not make anything but the physicality, length and superior energy from the Tar Heels were an obvious advantage to the underdog.
In the first half, North Carolina had 18 second chance points to just two for Kansas, a clear indication of how the Tar Heels were simply more aggressive. Kansas was just 6 for 21 in the paint in the half and North Carolina outscored the Jayhawks 13-3 at the foul line.
The result was a commanding 40-25 halftime lead for North Carolina.
Then came the second half.
Kansas was a completely different team as the tide turned. It was the Jayhawks with all the energy, hustle and physicality in the final 20 minutes.
It was amazing to see.
Kansas built a 56-50 lead with a furious start to the half but North Carolina did not panic.
The Tar Heels battled back to tie it 57-57 with 8:05 to play.
It was time to start over.
The game stayed even pretty much the rest of the way with neither side building more than a four-point lead.
Brady Manek gave North Carolina the lead at 69-68 with 1:42 to play on the put back of a missed shot.
David McCormack then put Kansas ahead to stay with a jump hook in the paint with 1:19 to play to make it 70-69.
Armando Bacot, who entered the game with a sprained right ankle, rolled it again in the final minute, resulting in a turnover. He had to leave the game with 38.5 seconds remaining.
Without Bacot defending him, McCormack went at Manek and hit another jump hook with 22 seconds left to make it 72-69.
Kansas got a stop and had the ball with 4.6 seconds left but on the inbound pass, the Jayhawks turned it over, giving North Carolina a final chance with 4.3 seconds left.
Caleb Love missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer and history was made.
It was truly a comeback for the ages and who could have possibly seen it at halftime?
North Carolina shot just 31 percent from the field.
Kansas won despite getting mauled 55-35 on the boards, including 24 offensive rebounds by the Tar Heels.
Ochai Agbaji was named the Most Outstanding Player. Agbaji had 33 points in the two final four games.
McCormack finished with 40 points and 19 rebounds in the two games, including the game-winning shot in the title game. How he did not receive the honor is mystifying.
Kansas has now won four national championships and denied North Carolina its seventh title.
It took 65 years but the Jayhawks finally got their revenge against the Tar Heels.
In 1957, North Carolina edged Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain 54-53 in triple overtime in the national championship game.
For lifetime Kansas fans, the wait was worth it.
Kansas had lost two previous title games in New Orleans, to Syracuse in 2003 and to Kentucky in 2012.
The third time was the charm.
On a charming night in a charming city which charmed all who were here and in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Kansas made New Orleans its home.
For the NCAA, there’s no place like home in the Dome of New Orleans.
There is no better city to host the event and there is no city that does a better job.
There is also no city which produces the best championship games.
The NCAA needs to come back and soon.
Kansas got a historic win, and New Orleans made history again as the best big event city in the country.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…