NEW ORLEANS — Coach K’s storied career is over.
North Carolina played the ultimate villain again, stunning 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 dagger three-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) drained a pair of free throws to solidify the victory.
UNC (29-9) advanced to Monday’s national championship (9:20 p.m. ET, TBS) to meet Kansas and ended Mike Krzyzewski’s storied career and a chance at winning a sixth title. They had previously spoiled Coach K’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 5.
Now, North Carolina – behind first-year coach Hubert Davis – has won on the biggest stage in a rivalry game that was hyped as the “biggest game in college basketball history” and “the game of the century.”
Davis said during his press conferences throughout the week he loved when his team played with emotion. Love was taking his coach’s advice, pointing passionately to the North Carolina crowd and a pack of former Tar Heels players after making back-to-back three-pointers and a lay-up to give UNC a decisive 45-41 edge at the start of the second half with 16:21 left.
“We’re playing for a national championship,” coach Hubert Davis. “One of the things our team has done well is celebrating a win but then setting our sights on what’s next. I want them to celebrate tonight. That’s important.”
After a poor shooting first half, UNC amped up its defense, especially in the paint and stopped settling for outside shots, in the second half.
“I feel like in the first half, we were settling for jump shots,” Davis said. “In the second half, we were more inside out. These guys were terrific defensively.”
The final two minutes in this game were thrilling. Duke guard Trevor Keels’ three-pointer with 2:05 left gave the Blue Devils a 71-70 lead before UNC big man Brady Manek countered with a three-pointer of his own. A tip-out on the ensuing play led to Wendell Moore Jr. draining a three-pointer and giving the Blue Devils a 74-73 edge. Then UNC guard R.J. Davis’ free throws with 1:01 left made it 75-74 in favor of the Tar Heels, setting up Love’s heroics in the game’s final minute.
The Tar Heels were on the NCAA Tournament bubble at the start of March. Now they’re playing in the national title game. They won despite their best player, Armando Bacot, getting hurt in the game’s final four minutes – leaving 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. Bench player Trevor Keels played huge for Duke, scoring 19 points off the bench.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.