Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 77, #3 Oregon 76Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2017
RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament, including this weekend’s Final Four in Phoenix.
- North Carolina Survived, Part I. With a little more than four minutes remaining in the first half, Oregon hit a three-pointer to go up by eight points. North Carolina’s offense to that point was sputtering with a shooting percentage in the high 20-percent range, and nobody other than Kennedy Meeks seemed to be able to find the range. From that point over the next eight game minutes spanning the halftime break, North Carolina went on a 26-8 run to take the lead and never relinquished it. The feeling around the building was that the Tar Heels — which has more offensive options on its roster — had dodged a bullet. Oregon stars Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey were a combined 2-of-11 from the field for just 10 points, and although several other players (most notably, Dylan Ennis) had stepped up, it was clear that the Ducks had wasted a golden opportunity. Once the Tar Heels’ offensive machine got rolling on the back of Justin Jackson along with Meeks, Oregon was in big trouble.
- North Carolina Survived, Part II. Until it wasn’t in big trouble. After spending most of the second half nurturing a working lead in the 5- to 10-point range, the Ducks kept chipping away at it until the Tar Heels finally relented. A late Oregon run — punctuated by perplexingly awful decision-making on both ends — cut the North Carolina lead to a single point with seven seconds remaining, setting in motion a seemingly impossible finish. Two missed free throws by Kennedy Meeks led to an offensive tip-out and the Tar Heels retaining possession, followed by another foul and two more missed free throws from Joel Berry, an offensive rebound by Meeks, and the Tar Heels again retaining possession. With four seconds remaining, there was more than enough time for Oregon to make a push up the court and find a decent shot, but that idea was quashed by North Carolina’s relentlessness on the glass. After the Heels had gifted the Ducks two incredible opportunities to win, it seemed a fitting way to end a game that had gotten very ugly down the stretch. Survive and advance comes in many different forms, but four missed fouls shots followed by consecutive offensive rebounds was a first.
- Oregon Needed a Productive Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey. The Ducks were only going to go as far as their two offensive stars took them in this NCAA Tournament, and both Brooks and Dorsey were clearly bothered by the North Carolina defense tonight. In a contest where few outside shots were falling, the Heels forced the pair into a 5-of-22 disaster (3-of-10 from three-point range) that caused the Ducks too many empty offensive possessions. Compare that with the 9-of-18 from three-point range the pair hit against Kansas, and it’s easy to see why Oregon spent most of tonight playing from behind. Excellent efforts by Ennis (18 points) and Bell (13 points) kept the Ducks within range, but North Carolina was simply too good to force the Oregon stars into a tough night and not take advantage. The Tar Heels are moving on because they were able to contain these guys.
Star of the Game. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina. Meeks went into Beast Mode tonight against an Oregon front line that basically consisted of Jordan Bell and the aura surrounding him. His 14 points and five rebounds in the first half kept the Tar Heels afloat while awaiting the arrival of Justin Jackson (who finished with 22 points), and it seemed as if he was in the right spot at the right time every time Oregon appeared to be making a push. Perhaps this was illustrated no better than in the final sequence when, after missing a pair of his own free throws, he secured the game-winning offensive rebound after Berry’s misses, unloading the ball quickly into the backcourt before Oregon could foul yet again. His 25 points and 14 rebounds were both team-high totals, and it’s an accurate statement to say that Oregon would have won tonight if not for Meeks’ contributions.
- Roy Williams, in his opening statement to the assembled media: “…the fact of the matter is that we’re still playing.”
- Williams, in response to a question about how the ongoing academic scandal has affected his recruiting. The reporter called it a “blessing in disguise.”: “There’s not one second I think that’s a blessing.”
- Kennedy Meeks, describing what happened on the final play when he secured the game-winning offensive rebound: “My main focus […] hit the offensive glass hard. […] Jordan Bell went in a little more than I thought he would.”
- Justin Jackson, on comparing last season’s run to this season: “It’s a different team. It’s a different year. Gonzaga is a totally different team than Villanova was.”
- Oregon head coach Dana Altman, responding to a question about what he can say to his team after such a tough loss: “I wish I had something to say that would make them feel better. It hurts.”
- Altman, on the final series of plays. “I don’t know. There was a scrum there and we didn’t come up with either one. Jordan [Bell] felt terrible.”
Sights and Sounds. A total of 77,612 people attended tonight’s Final Four, the second-highest mark recorded in NCAA Tournament history (Dallas, 2014). Everyone has their own opinions on whether the fan experience in massive football venues such as the University of Phoenix Stadium can match those of traditional basketball arenas, but it remains a moot point for as long as the NCAA is running these events. The one thing that seems to be missing is the roar of the crowd — which can be impressive when everyone is on the same side, as in most NFL games — but is clearly missing when only a fraction of the bowl is filled by a cheering fan base and the rest are sitting on their hands.
What’s Next. North Carolina advances to the National Championship game for the 11th time in its long and illustrious basketball history. The Tar Heels are 5-5 in this round, while their opponent, Gonzaga, will be making its debut appearance. In a battle of #1 seeds that many believed for much of the season to be the two best teams in college basketball, it should be a compelling night between traditional basketball schools.