By Samuel Chamberlain / Fox News
This time, there was no last-second heartbreak for North Carolina.
Justin Jackson’s three-point play with 1:40 to play sparked an 8-0 run to close the game as North Carolina outlasted Gonzaga 71-65 in Monday night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
Nigel Williams-Goss had given Gonzaga a 65-63 lead by nailing a short jumper with 1:55 to play, but the Bulldogs came up empty on their final four possessions after Jackson’s heroics.
Williams-Goss led the Bulldogs with 15 points, but twisted his ankle on the ensuing trip and could not elevate for a jumper that would have given the Bulldogs the lead. After the possession arrow favored North Carolina on a tie-up, Isaiah Hicks made a basket to push the lead to 68-65 with 27 seconds left. After a Gonzaga timeout, Kennedy Meeks — who struggled with foul trouble all night — blocked Williams-Goss’ shot and Jackson sealed the championship with a slam dunk on the other end.
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player after he led all scorers with 22 points and chipped in six assists. Jackson managed to score 16 points despite going 0-for-9 from three-point range.
Gonzaga led for most of the first half, stretching the margin as wide as seven on two occasions. The Bulldogs led 35-32 at the half, but North Carolina came out of the locker room flying. The Tar Heels scored the first eight points of the second half to take a 40-35 lead and forced Gonzaga coach Mark Few to use a timeout 2:45 into the half.
The break seemed to settle Gonzaga’s players, as they scored the next eight points to take a 43-40 lead. The lead changed hands seven more times, but the excitement was blunted by the game’s 44 fouls and 52 free throws.
With the victory, North Carolina (33-7) won the sixth national title in its basketball program’s illustrious history and head coach Roy Williams won his third championship, surpassing his mentor Dean Smith.
“Coach Smith, I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same sentence as him,” Williams told CBS’ Jim Nantz during the trophy presentation. “I’ve got three because of these guys right here.”
It was, in North Carolina’s words, a redemption tour — filled with extra time on the practice court and the weight room, all fueled by a devastating loss in last year’s title game on Kris Jenkins’ 3-point dagger at the buzzer for Villanova.
Gonzaga finishes their season with a record of 37-2. Eighteen years after they caught the basketball world’s collective eye with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, the Bulldogs’ dream season came up one game short.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.