Kansas completes biggest title game comeback ever to beat North Carolina

Jude Papillion, Sports Editor

After two thrilling Final Four semifinal games on Saturday, the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Kansas Jayhawks took the floor for the 2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball national championship game. In the semifinals, the University of Kansas took down Villanova University 81-65 to advance, and the University of North Carolina defeated Duke University 81-77 in legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game.

Although the title game did not have as many lead changes as the UNC-Duke matchup, with six compared to 18, it certainly rivals that contest as one of the best college basketball games of all time. Despite only scoring 25 first-half points collectively and facing a 15-point deficit, the Jayhawks stormed back, outscoring the Tar Heels 47-29 in the second half to win the game 72-69 and claim their fourth national championship in program history.

At the center of the March Madness bracket inside the guts of the Caesars Superdome lies the NCAA Division I National Championship trophy. (Jude Papillion)

Kansas opened the contest by scoring the game’s first 7 points in less than two minutes for their largest of the game. After falling behind early, the Tar Heels found energy and stormed back while Kansas began to lack offensive production. North Carolina dominated Kansas on boards and inside the paint and held their largest lead, a 16-point advantage, with 2:23 left in the first half and led 40-25 at halftime. In the first half, the Tar Heels held an 18-2 advantage on second chance buckets. 

At the half, Ochai Agbaji led Kansas with 8 points on just five attempts while David McCormack had 6 points. North Carolina center/forward Armando Bacot had a 12-point, 10-rebound double double at halftime while RJ Davis also had a strong 11 points and six rebounds in the first half. 

The Jayhawks were able to turn things around in the second half, and in the game’s late minutes the Tar Heels and Jayhawks were in a back-and-forth battle for the lead. Kansas began to capitalize off of turnovers, and they finished the game with 18 points off of turnovers compared to UNC’s 9.

After shooting 30.3% overall prior to halftime, the Jayhawks improved their shooting in the second half, finishing the game 43.9% on field goals and 35.3% from beyond the arc. 

A Remy Martin 3-pointer with 2:40 left gave Kansas a 3-point, 68-65 lead. UNC’s Caleb Love responded with a layup, but Kansas still led by one, 68-67. After a Kansas airball, Love missed a layup that was tipped in by his teammate Manek on the Tar Heel’s next possession giving Carolina a 69-68 lead.

McCormack missed Kansas’ next shot short, but he grabbed his own rebound before scoring 2. Following a Kansas block on Love, Bacot went down after rolling his ankle while driving towards the basket. Bacot was forced to exit the game with 38.5 seconds left in what could have been the game’s deciding factor.

Despite his late injury, Bacot showed valiant effort on the floor. He did whatever he wanted to down low, grabbing 15 boards and scoring 15 points. While he was just 3/13 on shot attempts, Bacot made nine of his 13 shots at the free throw line. With a double double in the title game, he was the first player to ever record a triple double in all six tournament games. He also tied David Robinson for the most double doubles in a single season at 31. 

A North Carolina student dresses up as Tar Heel star Brady Manek. (Jude Papillion)

Manek filled Bacot’s role after his injury, and Kansas went straight to attacking Manek. McCormack bullied him inside the paint and was able to give Kansas a 72-69 lead. Under pressure, Carolina began to rush. Despite the fact that a 3 would tie the game, Love took a deep 3 that wound up hitting the glass away from the rim. UNC grabbed an offensive rebound, but Puff Johnson rushed and missed the second-chance shot.

North Carolina fans were hoping for another Michael Jordan-esque miracle in the game’s final seconds but did not get one. The Heels had one more chance to win the game with 4.3 seconds remaining after Dajuan Harris stepped out of bounds and gave Carolina the ball back. Love took another 3 for the tie but missed, and the Jayhawks walked away with the 72-69 win for their fourth NCAA title, sending the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball title is headed to Lawrence, Kansas for the first time since 2008. Their 16-point comeback was the largest in the history of Division I title games. 

Kansas senior forward David McCormack cuts down the net after winning a national title. (Jude Papillion)

The Jayhawks’ win comes after falling to the University of Kentucky in the title in New Orleans in 2012. Since then, Kansas has fielded several good teams over the past few seasons and was unable to finish prior seasons as champions until now. The title was the Jayhawk’s second under Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Self, coming in his 19th season as head coach.

Agbaji was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after finishing with 12 points and three rebounds. Agbaji previously finished with 21 points in the Jayhawk’s semifinal win over Villanova. Postgame, Agbaji gave credit to his veteran team and named his best friend and teammate McCormack as the team’s MVP. McCormack finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds and was named to the All-Tournament team.

Other members of 2022’s All-Tournament team include Agbaji, UNC’s Bacot and Love and Duke’s Paolo Banchero, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds against UNC in the semifinal round.

Jalen Wilson also scored 15 for the Jayhawks while Remy Martin totaled 14 points, and Christian Braun posted a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double. 

North Carolina’s RJ Davis finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds despite going 0/5 from behind the arc. Brady Manek finished with a 13-point, 13-rebound double double, and Love was unable to match his stellar 28-point performance against Duke, finishing with 13 points and three rebounds against the Jayhawks. 

The X factor for North Carolina was their shooting woes, particularly late in the game, as they shot just 31.5% overall and 21.7% from 3. However, the Tar Heels dominated the Jayhawks on rebounds, coming down with 55 compared to Kansas’ 35. 

Despite failing to become the only first-year coach to win an NCAA title, Hubert Davis should certainly see success after finishing 29-10. Kansas, now with 2,357 all-time wins, is the winningest program in all of NCAA Division I basketball and finished their season 34-6.

University of Kansas students celebrate their national championship win over North Carolina. (Jude Papillion)