Kansas Beats UNC Behind Historic Comeback to Win 2022 NCAA Men's Championship

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVApril 5, 2022

Kansas players celebrate after a college basketball game against North Carolina in the finals of the Men's Final Four NCAA tournament, Monday, April 4, 2022, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The Kansas Jayhawks are national champions for the fourth time in school history.

Kansas defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 72-69 in a thrilling, back-and-forth 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament championship game in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans on Monday. David McCormack, Jalen Wilson and Remy Martin led the way for the victors, who were the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region and took home the title for the first time since 2008.

They also made history by overcoming a 16-point deficit, which was the largest comeback in national championship game history.

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WHAT AN ENDING.<br><br> That was wild. <a href="https://t.co/z8HQKKrTIs">pic.twitter.com/z8HQKKrTIs</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

JAYHAWKS ARE THE LAST TEAM STANDING IN NOLA 🏆<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/TtdSlqQPt4">pic.twitter.com/TtdSlqQPt4</a>

Solid showings from Armando Bacot, R.J. Davis and Brady Manek weren't enough for the Tar Heels, who were the No. 8 seed in the East Region and fell just short of tying the 1985 Villanova Wildcats as the lowest-seeded team to ever win a national championship.

A victory would have given North Carolina its seventh national title in school history, but Caleb Love's potential game-tying three at the buzzer was off.

Notable Player Stats

  • David McCormack, F, KAN: 15 PTS, 10 REB
  • Jalen Wilson, F, KAN: 15 PTS, 4 REB
  • Christian Braun, G, KAN: 12 PTS, 12 REB, 3 AST
  • Remy Martin, G, KAN: 14 PTS, 3 REB, 4-of-6 3PT
  • Armando Bacot, F, UNC: 15 PTS, 15 REB
  • R.J. Davis, G, UNC: 15 PTS, 12 REB
  • Brady Manek, F, UNC: 13 PTS, 13 REB, 4 BLK

Second-Half Magic Propels Kansas to Title

The story of Kansas basketball since its 2008 national championship has been one of what-could-have-been on stages like Monday's. After all, it has a national title game loss, a Final Four loss, three Elite Eight losses and two Sweet 16 losses since it last cut down the nets.

It looked to be more of the same with a litany of mistakes right out of the gates Monday.

Martin was not shy about launching ill-advised shots off the bench, multiple poor entry passes to McCormack on the block erased scoring opportunities and the defense struggled to rebound and work through screens as Manek hit open looks.

The frontcourt was also an issue with Wilson missing several easy looks around the rim and Mitch Lightfoot in immediate foul trouble as he was physically overwhelmed by Bacot. McCormack also picked up a second foul before halftime by hitting Davis on a three-pointer in transition as the theme of costly Jayhawk mistakes continued.

Just when it felt like everything was going wrong for the Big 12 representative, it all started going right.

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ONE POINT GAME<br><br>Kansas on a 12-1 run <a href="https://t.co/sUaejzjHLa">pic.twitter.com/sUaejzjHLa</a>

NCAA March Madness @MarchMadnessMBB

McCormack rocking the rim 💥<a href="https://twitter.com/KUHoops?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KUHoops</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/KuzE27eFYc">pic.twitter.com/KuzE27eFYc</a>

NCAA March Madness @MarchMadnessMBB

JALEN WILSON FOR THREEEE 🔥<br><br>BACK AND FORTH WE GO<a href="https://twitter.com/KUHoops?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KUHoops</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/e0CVTFwElu">pic.twitter.com/e0CVTFwElu</a>

NCAA March Madness @MarchMadnessMBB

JAYHAWKS ARE FEELING IT 🤯<a href="https://twitter.com/KUHoops?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KUHoops</a> takes back the lead <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/5HNVyJyrLO">pic.twitter.com/5HNVyJyrLO</a>

NCAA March Madness @MarchMadnessMBB

Jalen Wilson plus the foul 😤<br><br>Here comes <a href="https://twitter.com/KUHoops?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KUHoops</a>! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/0RAA1DfsSK">pic.twitter.com/0RAA1DfsSK</a>

NCAA March Madness @MarchMadnessMBB

REMY TIME ⏰<a href="https://twitter.com/KUHoops?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KUHoops</a> with a big bucket <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/3HKZcFjL2V">pic.twitter.com/3HKZcFjL2V</a>

Kansas made a point of getting out in transition and attacking early in the shot clock, which led to multiple looks for Christian Braun and Wilson. It also dialed up the defensive intensity to create turnovers and generate those opportunities, and a three-pointer by Martin and an and-one on the break by Wilson gave the Jayhawks a shocking six-point lead with a 31-10 run to start the second half.

Martin's individual turnaround mirrored the team's, as he put his early struggles behind him with multiple triples—including a clutch one over Bacot in the final three minutes—an assist on a Wilson three and an impressive finish at the rim while keeping momentum on his team's side all while Braun and Wilson also continued to play well.

Yet it was McCormack who made the biggest shots of all and completed the comeback with back-to-back baskets in the final stretch to give Kansas the three-point lead that proved to be the championship-winning margin.

North Carolina Blows Dominant First Half

It is a testament to the importance of the Duke and North Carolina rivalry that a national title game almost felt like an undercard for the Tar Heels after their dramatic win on Saturday. However, one lingering concern heading into Monday's contest was depth.

That was especially the case since Bacot suffered an ankle injury Saturday and was clearly less than 100 percent as he labored in the early going against the Jayhawks. To his credit, he not only battled through it but actually thrived as the ACC representative seized control on the way to a 15-point halftime lead.

Bacot went chest-to-chest with McCormack on both ends and crashed the offensive glass as North Carolina consistently created second-chance points. He immediately established himself as a scoring threat on the blocks with 12 points by intermission.

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All UNC so far 😳<br><br>Tarheels taking over <a href="https://t.co/okmzPGc32o">pic.twitter.com/okmzPGc32o</a>

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

North Carolina outscored Kansas, 18-2, on 2nd-chance points in the first half.<br><br>It's only the second time this season that Kansas has allowed 18 2nd-chance points in a game. The first time was against Villanova, two days ago <a href="https://t.co/MhlEpWAhsk">pic.twitter.com/MhlEpWAhsk</a>

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Bacot picking up where he left off 😤 <a href="https://t.co/J1XrOPdeK8">pic.twitter.com/J1XrOPdeK8</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

UNC bigs putting on a CLINIC<br><br>Bacot: 12 PTS | 10 REB<br>Manek: 9 PTS | 4 REB<br><br>Tarheels up 40-25 at half 😳 <a href="https://t.co/763AzRQYAk">pic.twitter.com/763AzRQYAk</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Shoutout to Armando Bacot<br><br>Gave it his all, even through injury 🙏 <a href="https://t.co/AV6e81OCc8">pic.twitter.com/AV6e81OCc8</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

UNC BACK ON TOP.<br><br>WHAT A GAME. <a href="https://t.co/nMPx06vGw7">pic.twitter.com/nMPx06vGw7</a>

It was far from a one-man show, though, as Manek similarly battled through multiple elbows to the head only to find his stroke from deep with three triples in the first half. Throw in Davis contributing on the boards and getting to the free-throw line from the backcourt to go with strong team-wide defense, and the Tar Heels were in full control.

Until they weren't.

The version of North Carolina that blew a 25-point lead in the second round against Baylor made an untimely appearance in the second half, only this time it was unable to rescue itself in overtime. Leaky Black picked up a fourth foul, Love and Davis continued to miss shots and turn the ball over, Bacot went ice cold from the field, and the massive lead was suddenly a six-point deficit 10 minutes into the second half.

The Tar Heels responded with an unlikely candidate, as Puff Johnson hit a three and finished at the rim twice to keep them close. However, he had to exit the game after he was doubled over on the floor, and the offense devolved into Love forcing the issue on a number of possessions.

It felt fitting that Love missed two threes in the final 15 seconds since he was an ugly 5-of-24 from the field, which—along with Bacot exiting after he rolled his ankle attacking the basket—ended any chance of a late comeback for North Carolina after it choked away what seemed to be an insurmountable lead.