Tar Heels Take Title
Markel Turrell & Jacob Jardel
Gonzaga and North Carolina surprised no one when they advanced to the 2017 NCAA Final Four, but almost no one predicted that Oregon and South Carolina would make it that far.
While the Tar Heels extended their record to 20 Final Four appearances, the Ducks played their first game in the national semifinals since 1939. Meanwhile, Gonzaga and South Carolina made it to this stage for the first time in their respective schools’ histories.
Gonzaga v. South Carolina
Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski played well to lead the Bulldogs over South Carolina 77-73.
This win put Gonzaga in the national title game for the first time in school history. Head coach Mark Few said the team earned a hard win in a good game.
“Both teams competed very hard,” Few said in a press conference, “and it took everything to hold the Gamecocks down the stretch and come back to win.”
The teams traded close leads before the Bulldogs took a 10-8 deficit and turned it into a 20-14 lead, one they held for the rest of the half.
South Carolina made a run to tie the game at 31 after Chris Silva accidentally hit Karnowski in the eye, taking him to the bench for the rest of the half. But Gonzaga took the lead right back on a Jordan Matthews three pointer. Matthews hit another three right before the half to give the Bulldogs a 45-36 halftime lead.
The Zags started the second half where they left off, building their lead throughout the first 10 minutes. A Zach Collins layup brought the lead to double digits at 54-43. The Bulldogs built their lead 14 after a pair of free throws from Williams-Goss.
But staunch defense gave the Gamecocks the momentum to mount a 16-0 run for the 67-65 lead.
Collins would hit a shot from behind the arc to retake a 68-67 lead for Gonzaga, one they would keep for the rest of the game.
North Carolina v. Oregon
The Tar Heels outlasted numerous runs from an upstart Ducks squad to earn the 77- 76 win to put them in the national title game.
North Carolina started off the game, forcing a quick turnover that lead to a Joel Berry three to start off the scoring.
The rest half followed suit, with plenty turnovers and about as many fouls.
Oregon took a 13-11 lead on two Dylan Ennis free throws. The Ducks kept the lead for most of the first half, including a 30-22 advantage after Ennis’ back-to back three pointers. But the Tar Heels mounted a 17-6 run to close the half to take the 39-36 lead.
UNC’s superior game in the front court led to the team’s control of the early parts of the second half. Kennedy Meeks put up six points and five rebounds within the first five minutes, including a layup that put the Heels up 48-41.
But Ennis and Tyler Dorsey kept Oregon in striking distance with the good defense and perimeter shooting. The duo kept up their strong play down the stretch to keep the deficit within six points for the final minutes.
North Carolina foul trouble helped give the Ducks a shooting chance. Oregon scored 12 of their final 18 points from the free throw line. The comeback almost solidified with a Keith Smith fast break layup that put the Ducks within one with six seconds left.
Meeks missed both of his subsequent free throws, but Berry recovered the offensive board before going to the line for two. He missed both of his shots, but Meeks secured the rebound to give UNC the win.
North Carolina v. Gonzaga
North Carolina won their sixth national title with a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga.
The championship marks the third for head coach Roy Williams, tying Dean Smith for the most postseason titles in Tar Heel history.
For Gonzaga, the loss was only their second on the season. For Williams-Goss, it was a tough way to end an otherwise great season.
“This loss hurts bad,” he said, “But [the team] made a lot of people proud.”
Both teams faced foul trouble throughout the game, with each team getting whistled for 22 infractions apiece. The 44 fouls showed the physicality the two teams exhibited throughout the series and the tournament.
The game started for North Carolina like it did against Oregon with a turnover and a quick score, this one on a Theo Pinson breakaway dunk. The teams traded the lead before a Matthews three pointer gave the Zags a 10-8 lead that put them in front for the rest of the half.
Gonzaga made six threes in the first half to take command of the game A Josh Perkins three pointer would put Gonzaga up 28-21.
Berry and Isaiah Hicks led a 7-0 run to cut UNC’s deficit to 30-28. But the Bulldogs held onto a 35-32 lead at halftime.
North Carolina came out of halftime on a roll, building on an 8-0 run to gain their largest lead of the game at 40-35. But the Zags fought back to retake the lead with their own 8-0 run.
The teams traded the lead among foul trouble throughout the second half. The Bulldogs sat Karnowski and Collin, both of whom had four fouls. In contrast, the Tar Heels kept Meeks and Hicks on the court after their fourth fouls. This move helped UNC keep pace with Gonzaga.
Few brought Collins back in the game, and the big man put up points in the post at will. But he quickly picked up his fifth foul to keep him off the court.
The teams traded the lead until Berry put up a three that gave the Tar Heels the 62-60 lead. Williams-Goss kept up his tournament magic with a tough jumper that gave the Zags a 65-63 lead with a 1:55 left to play.
But Justin Jackson made a basket and a freeth throw fifteen seconds later to give the Tar Heels a 66-65 lead.
The Tar Heels then shifted their focus to defense, but a controversial play in their favor helped them along the way.
Meeks and Gonzaga’s Silas Melson dove to secure possession on a Berry miss, leading to a jump ball despite Meeks’ hand being out of bounds. Referees did not review the play, and the possession arrow kept the ball with North Carolina.
Hicks hit a tough jumper on the next possession to put the Heels in front by three. UNC sealed the game with a Meeks block on a Williams-Goss three and Jackson’s subsequent breakaway dunk, securing the title for North Carolina.