By Brian Dostaler
On May 16th, 2016 former North Carolina star Marcus Paige tweeted “Heels goin to Phoenix to finish the job. Yeah I said it!” Paige, of course, was apart of the Tar Heels squad that fell to Villanova 77-74 in the 2016 National Championship game on Kris Jenkins 3-point buzzer beater. The loss was a heartbreak for Paige and everyone else at Chapel Hill after coming so close to cutting down the nets. For Paige, that was his last game in a North Carolina uniform, but that didn’t stop this year’s Tar Heels team as they rattled off 27 wins entering Selection Sunday, were rewarded as the two seed in the South Region and ended up going all the way to Phoenix and taking down the Gonzaga Bulldogs 71-65 to capture their sixth title in program history.
In a game that featured 44 personal fouls and 52 free throws, it was hard for either team to get in any kind of rhythm with the amount of whistles and stoppage of play. Both teams had to deal with foul trouble for most of the second half. Gonzaga, who was playing for the first National Title in program history, shot just 33.9% from the field (20-59). Junior Guard Nigel Williams-Goss led the team in scoring with 15 points, Sophomore Guard Josh Perkins finished with 13 points as big man Przemek Karnowksi struggled mightily in this one as he finished with 9 points on 1-8 shooting.
With 1:52 left in the 2nd Half, Williams-Goss gave the Bulldogs a 65-63 lead after banking a jumps shot from the low post. However, the Tar Heels would respond in a big way as Justin Jackson’s, this year’s ACC Player of the Year, draws contact around the rim and makes the basket with 1:40 left. Jackson would make the free throw and give North Carolina a 66-65 lead. Then with 25 seconds to go, Isaiah Hicks makes a tough lay up to increase the lead to three at 68-65. On the very next possession, Williams-Goss penetrates down the lane where he was met and blocked by Kennedy Meeks, ball gets out to Jackson in the open floor and he slams it home to seal the deal for the Tar Heels. North Carolina, who shot just 4-27 (14.8%) from behind the arc, get there revenge back as it was their turn to cut down the nets.
Moments after the game, Paige went back to twitter and posted, “What a team. So proud to be a Tar Heel!” Paige once again was right on the money. North Carolina fought until the end and it was their turn to have the confetti fall on their chest and to cut down the nets.