But this wasn’t a definite win for the No. 1 seed over the No. 8 seed. Kansas jumped into a quick 7-0 lead to start the game, but North Carolina quickly stabilized, taking a 16-0 lead late in the first half.
Kansas trailed UNC by as much as 16 points in the first half and dropped 15 points in the first half. According to the NCAA, the 16-point comeback is the largest in the game’s history. Additionally, according to the NCAA, the previous record for the largest first-half deficit overcome in a men’s title match was 10, by Kentucky against Utah in 1998.
The Jayhawks came off shooting after the inning, eventually erasing Tar Heels’ lead with less than 11 minutes to play. A back-and-forth battle ensued as the match was tied 65-65 with 3 minutes remaining.
Kansas quickly took a three-point lead and turned the ball with less than 5 seconds left when Daguan Harris Jr. ran out of bounds, returning the ball to UNC. But the final catharsis by Caleb Love was elusive.
This was the tenth appearance in the Kansas title game, and the third under coach Bill Self. This is his second title, the other to come in 2008.
Teams walked different paths to the title game
The two star programs took two very different paths this season to reach the championship game.
The UNC eighth seed was the obvious underdog despite the team’s acclaimed history of success, which includes six national titles. The Tar Heels is led by coach Hubert Davis, who is in his freshman year in the UNC role. He took over from Roy Williams, who retired after commanding UNC for 18 seasons and Kansas for 15 years prior to that.
Kansas, the top seed, had a less eventful trip to the title game. The Jayhawks have survived close encounters with Creighton and Providence in the previous rounds, and withdrew late in the game over 10th seed Miami to reach the fourth final.
The Jayhawks lost in the title match in 2012 and were the favorites in 2020 before the tournament was called off due to Covid-19. UNC has won six national titles in its history, including 2005, 2009 and 2017.
Both UNC and Kansas relied on the steady hands of VIPs in a sport often identified by rookie stars on their way to the NBA.
Tar Heels marked the scoring and rebounding prowess of young striker Armando Bacot, the big man leading the team with 16 points per game. He made 21 rebounds against the Duke on Saturday and 22 rebounds against St. Peter, UNC also picked up a number of second chance opportunities. However, Bakut injured his ankle against Duke and could be limited in the title game.
Meanwhile, Kansas has relied on the superb shooting of Agbagi, who has fired 41% from a 3-point range this season and led the team in scoring at nearly 19 points per game. The Jayhawks use an inside-out game as they post a group of shooters around the 6-foot-10 McCormack’s presence in the paint.
CNN’s Jill Martin and Travis Caldwell contributed to this report.