The North Carolina Tar Heels have ended Mike Krzyzewski's coaching career with an 81-77 victory over the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday night to clinch a berth in the 2022 men's national championship game.
One month after spoiling Coach K's final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, North Carolina stopped his bid to retire with a national title. The Tar Heels made their own history by tying an NCAA record as the lowest-seeded team to reach the championship game.
North Carolina is the fifth No. 8 seed to advance to the final. UCLA (1980), Villanova (1985), Butler (2011) and Kentucky (2014) previously accomplished the feat. Head coach Hubert Davis' team can join the 1985 Wildcats as the lowest-seeded national champion if it gets one more win Monday.
Saturday was Krzyzewski's opportunity for revenge against Duke's biggest rival. The Blue Devils allowed a season-high 94 points to North Carolina on March 5. Their defense tightened up in the tournament, holding their first four opponents to 69.8 points per game.
Neither team put their best foot forward in the first half. They combined to shoot 39.4 percent from the field in the first half (5-of-27 from three-point range). Duke took to a 37-34 lead into the break thanks to Jeremy Roach's layup-and-1 with 4.1 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Blue Devils' bench tandem of Trevor Keels and Theo John were instrumental in the team's first-half success. They combined for 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
R.J. Davis was on fire in the first 20 minutes for North Carolina. He had 14 points, four rebounds and two assists.
An 11-0 run for the Tar Heels early in the second half turned a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead.
The home stretch of the second half was as good as there has been so far in the tournament. Three consecutive possessions ended in a three-pointer, with the end result being Duke taking a 74-73 lead with 1:18 left to play.
Love's three-pointer with 28 seconds left put North Carolina up by four. After a Jeremy Roach layup, he missed the back end of a one-and-one to keep Duke within three points with 10.4 seconds remaining.
The Tar Heels fouled Keels, who could only make one of his two attempts to make it a 79-77 game. Love made his two free throws this time to seal the win, and end Krzyzewski's quest for a title in his final season.
Notable Game Stats
- Caleb Love (UNC): 28 points (11-of-20 FG), 4 rebounds
- R.J. Davis (UNC): 18 points (6-of-13 FG), 7 rebounds, 4 assists
- Armando Bacot (UNC): 11 points (3-of-10 FG), 21 rebounds
- Paolo Banchero (Duke): 20 points (8-of-17 FG), 10 rebounds, 2 assists
- Trevor Keels (Duke): 19 points (8-of-14 FG)
- Wendell Moore Jr. (Duke): 10 points (4-of-14 FG), 8 rebounds
Love Lifts Tar Heels to Title Game
The biggest transition for North Carolina from its sluggish first half to an impressive second half was the performance of Caleb Love.
Love had six points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first half. He made each of his first four shots and scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the second half.
The sophomore guard scored eight of North Carolina's 11 points during the run early in the second half to put the team up 45-41.
The Blue Devils countered with a 10-2 run that gave them a 51-49 lead midway through the second half.
Both teams were throwing haymakers at each other in the second half. North Carolina did an outstanding job of answering each time it looked like Duke was hitting its stride.
Davis, Bacot and Love were the go-to players for the Tar Heels when they needed a big play. After a Banchero jumper tied the score at 55, they scored five points on back-to-back possessions thanks to Bacot's three-point play and a Love jumper.
Love made arguably the biggest shot of the game when he drilled a three with 24.8 seconds left to make it a 78-74 score.
NCAA March Madness @MarchMadnessMBB
CALEB LOVE OMG!!!! 😱<a href="https://twitter.com/UNC_Basketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@UNC_Basketball</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MFinalFour?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MFinalFour</a> <a href="https://t.co/8xdvnYbzQU">pic.twitter.com/8xdvnYbzQU</a>
Love would add three more free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the win. The Missouri native had 22 points in the second half.
Mike Schmitz @Mike_Schmitz
Caleb Love started his collegiate career in the top-10 of the 2021 ESPN Mock Draft. It has taken him a little longer than most expected but he’s showing exactly why he was so highly-touted heading into college. Another big test coming vs KU, Ochai Agbaji, and Christian Braun. <a href="https://t.co/0oUnwGHLK8">https://t.co/0oUnwGHLK8</a>
While Love was taking care of the scoring, Armando Bacot was a monster on the glass in this win. He grabbed 21 rebounds (eight offensive). It was his second consecutive game with at least 20 boards (22 vs. Saint Peter's).
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Armando Bacot has secured his 30th double-double of the season, breaking a tie with Tim Duncan for the most in season in ACC history.<br><br>Bacot is the first player with 30 in a season since Blake Griffin in 2008-09, and is one shy of the record set by David Robinson in 1985-86. <a href="https://t.co/aUKpidZSIz">pic.twitter.com/aUKpidZSIz</a>
Bacot's defense was also instrumental in containing Duke's scorers. Wendell Moore Jr., who shot at least 50 percent in each of his past six games, went just 4-of-14 from the field on Saturday. He was 3-of-8 against North Carolina on March 5.
The Tar Heels have hit their stride as a team at the absolute right time. They have won 11 of their past 12 games. They are one victory away from winning their first national title since 2016-17.
Streaky Blue Devils Fall Apart in Second Half
One reason there was skepticism around the Blue Devils coming into the tournament is because they have a tendency to be maddeningly inconsistent.
Duke lost two of its final four games before the tournament because the defense allowed 82.8 points per contest during that span. The defense tightened up in the past four games, and was playing well for 20 minutes Saturday, but things looked like they might fall apart in the second half.
Banchero, who isn't a great facilitator anyway, was held without an assist until late in the second half. His defensive deficiencies also caused problems when Duke was struggling to contain the Tar Heels offense in the second half.
Banchero did show off his defensive chops when he blocked Bacot's layup attempt to keep Duke ahead 62-59.
Keels came up huge for the Blue Devils to help halt the momentum swings for North Carolina. His three-pointer early in the second half kickstarted the 10-2 run. He made a layup with 7:02 remaining to put them back on top 63-62.
The performance from Keels was unexpected after he was held to 27 points in the first four tournament games combined, including zero in the Sweet 16 against Texas Tech.
As has been the case at times this season, Duke's defense couldn't rise to the challenge. The Tar Heels scored on each of their final five possessions (two three-pointers, seven free throws).
The Achilles heel for the Blue Devils has come on the defensive end. They entered play ranked 128th in the nation in defensive rating (98.6) and 129th in points allowed (67.4), per Sports-Reference.com.
This has always been a team carried by the offense, but when it failed them, they had no counter punch available. The end result is Duke going home sooner than it wanted, and the end of arguably the best coaching career in college basketball history.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Thank you, Coach K 🐐<br><br>5x National Championships <br>13x Final Four appearances <br>3x Naismith College Coach of the Year <br>5x ACC Coach of the Year <br>Basketball HOF (2001)<br>College Basketball HOF (2006)<br>3x Olympic gold medals (as head coach)⁰⁰What a career <a href="https://t.co/iECB9NtyYq">pic.twitter.com/iECB9NtyYq</a>
Saturday's loss certainly doesn't spoil the entirety of Krzyzewski's 42-year run at Duke. The Blue Devils are one of the preeminent programs in all of college sports thanks to what he was able to accomplish.
North Carolina will play Kansas in the national championship game on Monday at 9 p.m. ET.