Graphic by David Jakacky

Down by 16 at halftime, not many people could have predicted such a massive comeback from the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team against the No. 8 seed North Carolina Tar Heels. But against all odds, not only did the Jayhawks come back into the game, they pulled off the biggest comeback in March Madness history, topping Loyola University Chicago’s 15-point comeback against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats in 1963.

The Jayhawks entered the game as the heavy favorites and they showed why they were throughout the tournament. This was Kansas’s first championship game since 2012, and they had not won the championship since 2008. COVID-19 took away Kansas’s chance of winning it all in 2020. This year, they were determined to make it back, and their run for the playoffs culminated with the Jayhawks soundly beating the No. 2 seed Villanova Wildcats 81-65 to reach the title game.

For the Tar Heels, it was a much harder road to the championship. Coming in as the eighth seed, no one predicted the run they’d make all the way to the championship game, becoming just the second-ever eighth to make it to the championship. They even upset their arch-rivals, the Duke University Blue Devils, ruining coach Mike Krzyzewski’s chance at a sixth ring in what was the last game of his legendary career as a head coach.

At the beginning of the game, Kansas quickly jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but the rest of the first half was dominated by the Tar Heels. UNC outscored the Jayhawks 40-18 after Kansas’s hot start to lead at half 40-25.

After being the star against Villanova, fourth-year center David McCormack struggled big time in the first half as he shot 0-6 in the first half, and his struggles were clearly affecting the team as UNC outscored Kansas 18-2 on second-chance points. Third-year center Armando Bacot led UNC in the first half.

In the second half, the Tar Heels completely fell apart offensively and seemed to run out of gas on both sides of the floor. Halfway through the second half Kansas dropped the lead to just six points with 10:53 left in the game, but the rest of the half was back and forth, with both teams making shot after shot. In the end, thanks to two jump shots from McCormack and second-year point guard Caleb Love missing two three-pointers at the end, the Jayhawks held on to their comeback and beat the Tar Heels. 

Kansas outscored UNC 47-29 in the second half thanks to the strong overall play on both sides of the ball. They shot 43.6% from the field in the game and held the Tar Heels to just 31.5% shooting. While UNC may have out-rebounded the Tar Heels 55-35, the second half showed the difference on the boards with Kansas cutting it to 37-33. The Jayhawks also stole the ball six times which helped lead to eight points in the second half.

After a bad first half, McCormack showed up in a massive way in the second half, scoring 15 points on 7-15 shooting from the field to go along with 10 rebounds, one steal and one rebound. Third-year forward Jalen Wilson finished the game with 15 points on 5-13 shooting along with four rebounds, two assists and one block.

 Bacot led the Tar Heels in scoring and in rebounding with 15 in both categories but he was quiet in the second half and he only went 3-13 shooting in the game. Second-year guard R.J. Davis also had 15 points but he also struggled shooting the ball going 5-15 shooting along with two assists and 12 rebounds. No one shot well for the Tar Heels as they only made four three-pointers all game.

While it was a bitter defeat for UNC, it’s admirable just how close they came with everything stacked against them, and their run made this tournament one of the most entertaining and suspenseful in NCAA history, with many upsets and the last two games coming down to the wire.