NEW ORLEANS — Coach K’s illustrious career is over.
North Carolina played the ultimate villain again, upsetting archrival and No. 2 seed Duke, 81-77, in the Final Four on Saturday at Caesars Superdome before a crowd of 70,602.
Caleb Love’s 3-pointer with 28 seconds left, followed by a free throw, gave the No. 8-seeded Tar Heels a four-point lead and helped them pull off the upset. Trevor Keels’ free throw with 10.4 seconds left made it 79-77 before Love (28 points) hit a pair of free throws to solidify the win.
UNC (29-9) advanced to the national championship on Monday (9:20 pm ET, TBS) to take on Kansas and ended Mike Krzyzewski’s historic run and chance to win a sixth title. They had previously spoiled Coach K’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 5. Krzyzewski is now officially retired and assistant Jon Scheyer is Duke’s new head coach.
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“Coach K is amazing,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “And that team is the best team so far that we’ve played. And we just happened to make a few more plays tonight.”
Those plays came in an exciting final two minutes. Duke guard Trevor Keels’ 3-pointer with 2:05 left gave the Blue Devils a 71-70 lead before UNC big man Brady Manek responded with a 3-pointer. A prompt on the play that followed prompted Wendell Moore Jr. to hit a 3-pointer and give the Blue Devils a 74-73 lead. Then free throws by UNC shooting guard RJ Davis with 1:01 left made it 75-74 for the Tar Heels, setting up Love’s heroics in the final minute of the game. Two missed free throws by Mark Williams in the closing minutes proved costly for Duke.
“You don’t define a season with a game or a minute of play,” Krzyzewski said. “You define a season by what happened throughout the entire season. It’s been a great year for us.”
Still, the Blue Devils were the favorites to win it all. And now North Carolina, behind a passionate freshman coach at Davis, won on the biggest stage in a rivalry game that was touted as the “greatest game in college basketball history” and “the game of the century.” “.
Davis said all week that he loved when his team played with emotion. Love was heeding his coach’s advice, passionately pointing the finger at the North Carolina crowd and a bevy of former Tar Heels players after making back-to-back 3-pointers and a layup to give UNC a decisive 45-41 lead early in the game. second half with 16:21 to play. After a poor shooting first half, UNC expanded its defense in the second half, especially in the paint, and stopped settling for outside shots.
“We’re playing for a national championship,” Davis said. “One of the things our team has done well is celebrate a win, but then set our sights on what’s next. I want them to celebrate tonight. That’s important.”
The Tar Heels were in the NCAA Tournament bubble in early March. They are now playing in the national title game. Davis decided to put a picture of the Superdome on his players’ lockers at the start of practice in October, and now that belief system has come true. UNC beat their best player, Armando Bacot, who was injured in the last five minutes of the game and left the game with an ankle injury before re-entering.
Duke star Paolo Banchero led the Blue Devils with 20 points, but Duke couldn’t convert down the stretch. They shot just 5-for-22 from beyond the arc and were hampered by foul trouble early on. Bench player Keels played very well for Duke, scoring 19 points off the bench.
“I think we all left it there and played with joy,” Keels said. “We had fun out there. We fell short, but we sure had fun out there.”
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.