North Carolina men’s basketball and the awful, awful, no good, very bad half

NEW ORLEANS – Minutes before midnight in the loading area outside Caesar’s Superdome, police motorcycles roared their engines to life. The flashing lights highlighted the front seats of the North Carolina men’s basketball team bus, illuminating the feeling of a strange night.

The UNC star’s big man, Armando Bacot, sat in the first seat behind the charter bus driver, with his humped right ankle in a boot. UNC coach Hubert Davis stared quietly forward, eating at his chewing gum and rubbing his forehead in apparent disbelief.

UNC had just wasted a 16-point lead in the NCAA championship game, falling to Kansas 72-69 amid a spiral of cascading disasters to the biggest bursting lead in the tournament’s final history. Along the way to disgrace, four different Tar Heels suffered some form of illness on an evening where the team essentially played six players.

While UNC players did not use the injuries as an excuse, the collective tax clearly dragged them down in a second-half spiral that prevented the No. 8-seed UNC from conducting a historic race for the school’s seventh national title. Partly snake bites, partly physically overmatched and definitely played out by a better team, UNC’s first half of burning optimism disappeared in a bizarre second half that will long haunt the fan base.

Keep in mind that striker Brady Manek took a WWE-level elbow to his head during the game, dynamo guard Caleb Love twisted his ankle while working away from the ball, and Puff Johnson interrupted his game of life by bending over to throw up. on the floor. (Although KenPom does not record such actions, it will likely be remembered as the first throw-in on the floor in the history of the NCAA Championship.)

The fourth and most important injury happened to a player who bravely fought against pain all night. At the last minute, Bacot tumbled to the floor on the match’s largest possession, resulting in a turnover.

With North Carolina trailing 70-69 and 50 seconds left, Bacot attempted a spin pull in the lane, and his injured right ankle gave off what repetitions suggested was a floorboard pressing slightly under the weight of his foot. (Say on the conspiracy theories.)

Bacot turned the ball around, but still gathered somehow to get up and jump along the court on one leg to try to help UNC out in defense. If there is one image that summed up UNC’s pain Monday night, it was their 6-foot-10 warrior big man pogo who stabbed himself to the floor trying to play one last defensive possession. (The officers mercifully stopped the play and he sat down.)

“I thought I made a good move,” Bacot said. “I thought I really got the angle I wanted. I thought it would have been an easy basket. And then I just rolled my ankle …

“I was really struggling. I really could not put any weight down on my right leg. And I do not know, right there and then I probably knew I was done at that point.”

Game

0:20

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot has to leave the game after rolling his ankle in the last minute against Kansas.

After all these unfortunate incidents, UNC still had a chance to make the match a draw in the final few seconds after Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. tried to get Chris Webber into the NCAA scare by stepping off the field with 4.3 seconds left. Appropriately, the last game of the game was regretted by – what else? – a UNC player falling over.

Davis ran a game for Manek to get a 3-pointer on the opposite side, with RJ Davis attempting a wide-curved display on Ochai Agbaji to free Manek. But Manek fell and his right ankle was apparently caught at an awkward angle as he planted to sprint across the field and open up.

Game

0:16

Caleb Love’s attempt to tie the game is out of the mark for North Carolina as Kansas wins its fourth national title.

“It looked like he wanted to be open, throw it to the opposite corner,” Davis said. “But he stumbled. And then it completely threw the game off. I think he would have been open.

“The first option was for him to shoot the 3 ‘. And then we got Caleb coming out of another screen at the back who had to be set by Justin McKoy. But because Brady stumbled, it just messed up the game.”

The ruined game ended with a Love low-percentage step-back 3-pointer, closely guarded by Kansas’ Christian Braun. That shot came nowhere near going in, and Kansas celebrated in the wake. “Got the ball and I took the shot and fell short,” Love said.

After jumping ahead by 16 in the first half and leading by 15 at the break, UNC just could not muster the energy to hold Kansas back in the second half. A barrage of turnovers, Remy Martin’s shot production and David McCormack’s powers lifted UNC amid the bizarre theater that collapsed.

Johnson’s saliva on the field came, he said, after being hit in the stomach. “It just did not go well when I was first hit in the stomach,” he said as he fell to the floor and made the NCAA’s towel boy earn his seat with a vigorous wipe.

Johnson’s 11 points in 18 minutes set the stage for him to emerge as an obscure title game hero, at least until he missed a pull-up 3-pointer with six seconds left, which was a candidate for the night’s worst UNC shot attempt.

Game

0:38

Kansas erases a 16-point deficit to overwhelm the Tar Heels and wins the 2022 NCAA men’s national championship.

Love’s ankle injury happened without contact or any kind of dramatic cut when he said he “rolled my ankle twice” in the second half game. Love finished 5-to-24, including 4-to-18 in the second half and 1-to-8 overall from 3-point range.

The final indelible image of the stadium came with Bacot needing help walking down the stairs leading to the podium after the match, with Davis directing UNC staff to help him get down from the stage area.

“We all really wanted to win,” Bacot said. “We got so far and this was a huge goal for us, it was just hanging a banner up. And we just really wanted to win. I really did not want to let anything stop us from reaching that point. It did not work out. the way we wanted. “

As UNC players trudged out of the arena, there was some consolation in the fact that they spent six weeks changing the course of the program significantly in Davis’ first year. “I should be disappointed, but I’m just filled with so much pride,” Davis said. “I’m so proud of these guys, of what they’ve done for themselves individually, as a team, the way they’ve represented our university, this program, our community.”

Game

0:32

Brady Manek, Armando Bacot and RJ Davis help UNC go on a 16-0 run to build a big lead over Kansas.

UNC stormed through five fights and toppled arch-enemy Duke in the semifinals here, becoming almost the first No. 8 seed since Villanova in 1985 to win the title. Instead, the UNC settles for its record 21st Final Four, ending Mike Krzyzewski’s career and a wave of optimism that will accompany Davis’ tenure in the future.

“I think a lot of people have seen the passion that Hubert has for coaching, for these kids and for the university, and the authenticity that he brings to it every day,” said UNC Sports Director Bubba Cunningham. “We’ve seen it. Now many more people do.”

Davis mentioned this weekend how he annually watched the UNC’s 1991 Final Four loss to Kansas for nearly two decades, an exercise in torture in which he hoped the end from back in his playing days would somehow change.

After Monday night, there is a new entrance to the horror film section of UNC’s basketball history film catalog. This charming race to the final will long be remembered for the twists and turns – ankles and other – that led to a macabre finish.

.

Leave a Comment