NCAA Men’s Championship: North Carolina knocks out seeded Baylor in overtime

The University of North Carolina men’s basketball team spent part of December getting crushed by Kentucky. January brought humiliation in Miami and Wake Forest. February included being embarrassed in his home court by the Duke and Pittsburgh and demanding extra time to get over the heartbreaking Syracuse.

Then came March. The Tar Heels went to Duke and spoiled the final for Mike Krzyzewski at Cameron Indoor on March 5. Then, in overtime Saturday at Fort Worth, he upset Baylor, the Eastern District No. 1 seed and the reigning National Champion, to advance to the NCAA Round of 16.

Each of these iconic victories is from the bar that can redeem any incorrect season. But Monday? “Dagum,” says Roy Williams, who retired from North Carolina coaching last year but was in the stands on Saturday.

The eighth seed Tar Heel meets either Saint Mary’s or UCLA on Friday in Philadelphia.

They—and any other team left in the men’s championship this year—could be hard-pressed, though, to compose an action of greater suspense than dropping Baylor 93-86, the number one seed to lose this year.

Yes, Baylor won with the tip, and thanks to sinking Kendall Brown in a quick break, he made a 4-0 lead every 68 seconds. Then UNC took it over and didn’t even allow the game to tie until 15.8 seconds remained, and Baylor was improbably wiped out by a performance by Tar Heels that seemed more likely to end up in the record books than overtime.

In the first half – after which Tar Heel led 13 – UNC made half of his shots off the field, while Baylor sank 40 percent and struggled hard behind the arc. They were nearly equal on total rebounds, with UNC for the smallest of edges. But Baylor’s turnarounds fueled Carolina’s rally and captured 15 points from 42 before the break.

So did RJ Davis, a sophomore from White Plains, NY, who scored 30 points to lead UNC by the end of the day.

The chaos of Saturday’s game was, in many ways, a fitting sign of North Carolina’s debut campaign under Hubert Davis, who succeeded Williams.

The Tar Heels started to rise after losing 9 points to Pittsburgh on February 16 and have lost only once since then, to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. Krzyzewski marveled at them this month, once his own team was played, then ranked fourth in the country, by players like Armando Bacot, a 6-foot-10 junior who collects rebounds enthusiastically from an Internal Revenue Service agent, Brady Mannick, who He moved from Oklahoma and entered the Saturday game, leading North Carolina with three throws.

“We knew this team’s potential coming up this season, and we just wanted to change it up,” RJ Davis said on Friday. “We knew after losing to Pete, that this wasn’t the way we wanted to play. So from that moment on, I think we turned it around and started competing. Everyone bought their roles and that’s kind of what we’ve been buying.”

With the help of a fatal mistake, Baylor was able to buy in the majesty of being the number one seed. There’s only so much the team can do, though, in an afternoon when they lag 25 years behind.

At least Waco-based Baylor avoided overlapping insults on the long trip home after a heavy loss, and thanks to the victory over Norfolk State on Thursday, it’s a shame for being the first champ to leave in championship history.

Very little went as the Bears had hoped.

Baylor couldn’t manage a basket for close to four minutes into the second half. UNC took that break and scored 13 points, resulting in a 24 point build.

Much of that came from Manek, whose nine first-half points seemed small at the end of the second half, when he picked up 17. He almost certainly would have finished with over 26 points, but he was sent off with just over 10 minutes to play after a blatant foul.

His dismissal proved to be the catalyst for the kind of Baylor attack that, less than two hours earlier, would have looked like a sure-fire route for them to Philadelphia.

Shot after shot, opportunity after opportunity seized, the Bears looked like the team most expected to swing through Dickies Arena and take the lead.

Finally, with less than 16 seconds remaining, they tied the match at 80, where the score will remain until overtime.

Dontrez Styles, a freshman, hit a triple pointer early to allow UNC to regain control. Bakut made a free throw. The UNC would not have such a leadership lead until 78 marks remained, and the tar heels increased by 6 after a series of free throws and stops by both teams.

Then, though, time lapsed further, and the outcome didn’t change much, with Baylor, taking a share of the Big 12 Conference’s regular season title, wasting chances that could have brought them close to saving an afternoon and a season.

Instead, it will be North Carolina, a team he will probably forget not too long ago, which program will be played on in March.