On Monday, the University of North Carolina battled for the men’s college basketball national championship with a guiding purpose: Redemption. One season after last year’s sudden and heartbreaking last-second defeat in the same title game, the 2017 team walked off the court as champions. Barely.
In the last 25 seconds, each of the five Tar Heel starters contributed to turning one of the ugliest games in recent memory into a victory. The sequence defines the synchronicity that the starters — all upperclassmen — created throughout the year.
1. Isaiah Hicks
The Tar Heels had possession and a one-point lead as the clock ticked down. But without a score, the threat of a second consecutive championship loss would become reality if Gonzaga held the ball for a last chance. With 25 seconds left, Hicks hit the biggest bucket of the night. He drove the lane and banked in a challenging, contested shot that gave the Heels a more commanding three-point advantage.
2. Kennedy Meeks
Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss spun into the lane and hoisted up a shot that would get the Bulldogs back within one. Kennedy Meeks followed the drive at every step, stretched his arm toward the shot and blocked it. It will likely be the most memorable moment of the game. Already, a photograph of the moment has become the cover for the next Sports Illustrated.
3. Joel Berry
Joel Berry — the game’s leading scorer — grabbed the loose ball. He took two quick dribbles and threw a difficult pass to Justin Jackson, who ran ahead of everyone toward the basket.
4. Justin Jackson
Jackson dunked it. The crowd, the Tar Heel bench and fans in living rooms across North Carolina went crazy. The basket gave UNC a five-point lead with 11 seconds remaining.
5. Theo Pinson
Out of timeouts, Gonzaga rushed the ball up the court. But Kennedy Meeks made another outstanding defensive play, stealing a long pass and getting the ball to Berry. Gonzaga fouled, and Berry made one of two free throws to give the Heels a six-point lead. The Bulldogs missed a final, desperation three-point shot with two seconds left. Pinson grabbed the rebound — his ninth of the game — and threw the ball toward the stadium rafters. As the ball ascended, the Tar Heel team rushed the court, ready to celebrate their redemption.