In a hectic finish, the North Carolina Tar Heels were able to hold off the Oregon Ducks, 77-76.
North Carolina now advances one step closer to a redemptive title after losing at the buzzer in last season’s championship game. This time they’ll play Gonzaga Monday night.
Down the stretch, with the Tar Heels holding a slim lead, the semifinal didn’t have the feel of a game that close. Perhaps because a series of timeouts disrupted the rhythm; perhaps because there wasn’t a sense that the Ducks could make a final push to get past the Tar Heels.
Oregon couldn’t deliver long-range shots in the second half — the Ducks missed 15 of their eighteen 3-point shot attempts. And North Carolina, as expected, was dominant inside. Although the rebounding total was even for the game at 43, North Carolina big man Kennedy Meeks, 6’10” at 260 pounds, had his way against the undersized Ducks’ front line. The senior forward led the Tar Heels with 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
It’s this game that Oregon really missed Chris Boucher, one of the Ducks’ biggest players and best shot blockers — he suffered a knee injury before the tournament started. Tyler Dorsey led the Ducks with 21 points, while Dylan Ennis finished with 18 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Still, Oregon nearly pulled off the upset win. In a rare show of futility, first Meeks then North Carolina star guard Joel Berry II missed all four of the attempted free throws in the final seconds of the game. UNC was clinging to a 1-point lead at the time, so all Oregon had to do was corral one of the misses, take possession of the ball and get a shot up that might win the game. But Oregon couldn’t corral. Meeks’ and Berry’s misses were rebounded by teammates, so Oregon never got that last chance. It was fitting that rebounding ultimately decided the game, since going into the contest, North Carolina had the advantage, being one of the top rebounding teams in the country.
The Tarheels head to the championship game Monday night against Gonzaga. Tar Heels fans needn’t be reminded that North Carolina lost a heartbreaker to Villanova last season on a buzzer beating shot in the final.