The North Carolina Tar Heels won the 2017 NCAA tournament with a wild finish to 71-65 win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the title game. There was no buzzer-beater this time around, but it was still a game that went down to the end.
The first big swing came with 54 seconds left in the second half when the two teams were battling for a defensive rebound following a Joel Berry II shot attempt. Kennedy Meeks and Silas Melson got tied up for a jump ball, which gave the Tar Heels the ball via the possession arrow.
That was the latest in a series of controversial calls by the referees throughout the game. Meeks doesn’t appear to have his hand around the ball when the whistle was blown, and his other hand touches out of bounds during the play as well.
Isaiah Hicks then hit a clutch layup to extend UNC’s lead to 68-65 with under 25 seconds remaining, which left Gonzaga with the chance to tie the game with a three-pointer.
That’s precisely what the Bulldogs tried, but Meeks blocked the shot from Nigel Williams-Goss, who had tweaked his ankle minutes before. It directly set up a dunk from Justin Jackson in transition that effectively put the game away.
Both teams struggled with their shots throughout the game at University of Phoenix Stadium, which makes the stunning finish all the more surprising. The Bulldogs ended up shooting just 34 percent from the field, while the Tar Heels weren’t much better at 36 percent.
This is the second straight national championship game involving UNC to end in close fashion. A year ago, Kris Jenkins was the hero with a buzzer-beating three-pointer as Villanova beat the Tar Heels, 77-74. The play came right after Marcus Paige had hit a three of his own to tie the game and, for a brief moment, force overtime.
Jenkins was in the crowd for this game because he’s close friends with North Carolina point guard Nate Britt, too, which makes for an even better finish. This time around, he had to watch the Tar Heels come away victorious, one year after his shot send them home with a loss.