Joel Berry II overcame an up-and-down tournament highlighted by injuries to both ankles to lead North Carolina to its sixth men's basketball title in a 71-65 victory against Gonzaga Monday night.
Most Outstanding Player of the tournament wasn't a hard decision. NCAA March Madness caught some of Berry's reaction:
The MVP had help from Justin Jackson (16 points) and Isaiah Hicks (13), while Nigel Williams-Goss paced the Bulldogs with 15 points as one of only two players on his side in double digits.
Here's a look at the important individual stats from the game:
|J. Berry II||22||3||6|
The team stats tell a major part of the story as well, with the Tar Heels forcing the Bulldogs into sloppy play and iffy shooting from the court, enough to compensate for bad shooting from range:
|Field Goal %||33.9||35.6|
|Three Point %||42.1||14.8|
This isn't what most expected going into a title game featuring the Tar Heels and Bulldogs, offenses sitting sixth and 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom.com, respectively.
Then again, the Bulldogs entered ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom after taking care of business in the bracket while never letting an opponent shoot better than 41 percent from the floor.
That speaks to what a great job the Tar Heels did while seeking redemption.
"I wanted to see this confetti fall on us and we're the winners," Berry said (via the aforementioned NCAA March Madness tweet). "We came out here and we competed. It came down to the last second, but we're national champs now."
Gonzaga hung around and even took a lead into halftime, yet the Tar Heels came out of the tunnel and stormed to an 8-0 run. Whatever adjustments head coach Roy Williams made came up big, as did the simple fact the Bulldogs weren't accustomed to banging down low with a team athletic and big enough to match.
The Tar Heels flustered Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski, a 7'1", 300-pound enforcer used to getting what he wants down low. He managed just 1-of-8 shooting from the floor. Williams-Goss needed 17 shots to reach his 15 points. Maybe the definitive play of North Carolina beating Gonzaga at its own game came with the Bulldogs down three with about 20 seconds left in the game—Williams-Goss drove to the lane and got denied hard by Kennedy Meeks.
The block set up the end of the game:
Not that players outside of Berry overly impressed, as expected. Meeks, the hero of the Final Four thanks to 25 points, scored seven. Justin Jackson, who averaged 18.3 points during the regular season, jacked up 19 shots and scored 16 points while laying an egg from deep, missing all nine attempts.
Yet Berry had enough this time. His 20 points in the title game a year ago wasn't. And this year he scored more than 20 points just once over North Carolina's first five tournament games, juggling nagging ankle issues as those around him compensated.
Monday, though, Berry did exactly what the Tar Heels needed, stepping up at a rare second chance at the biggest game of his life to date. He more than earned the MVP award, etching his name in college basketball history in the process.
Advanced metrics courtesy of ESPN.com.