PHILADELPHIA — After stopping Saint Peter’s storybook run, North Carolina will aim to make its next chapter an unforgettable one.
Coach K, see you in New Orleans.
Armando Bacot collected 20 points and 22 rebounds, Brady Manek scored 19 points, and the eighth-seeded Tar Heels defeated the 15th-seeded Peacocks 69-49 in the NCAA Tournament East Region final Sunday to advance to the Final Four.
Manek, Bacot and Caleb Love (14 points) helped North Carolina find ways around a Saint Peter’s defense that stymied the likes of Kentucky and Purdue in prior rounds. The Tar Heels shot 41 percent from the field Sunday and had only eight turnovers.
North Carolina (28-9) will play Duke (32-6) in the Final Four on Saturday, marking the first time the bitter ACC rivals will meet in NCAA Tournament history. The Tar Heels spoiled Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game before retirement, winning 94-81 on March 5.
The Tar Heels took down Marquette, defending champion Baylor and UCLA to make it to Sunday’s game. Now they have ended the improbable run of Saint Peter’s (22-12), the small New Jersey commuter school that became the first #15 seed in tournament history to reach the Elite Eight.
Fousseyni Drame had 12 points and seven rebounds to lead Saint Peter’s. KC Ndefo added 10 points, seven boards, six blocks and three steals.
The Peacocks missed their first six shots and fell behind 9-0 before getting on the board. Bacot grabbed 10 rebounds in the opening 10 minutes, denying Saint Peter’s second looks.
Manek gave the Tar Heels a double-digit lead with five quick points. His catch-and-shoot 3-pointer out of a timeout rolled around the rim and in, and on their next possession he scored with a baseline cut to go up 17-7.
Love hit consecutive 3-pointers to make it 27-9, and the Tar Heels led by as many as 21 on their way to doubling up the Peacocks 38-19 at intermission. Saint Peter’s made just 7 of 31 field goals in the half, including 1-of-11 from 3-point range.
Drame powered an 11-4 run early in the second half, knocking down a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 51-31. But the Peacocks could not draw any closer, making only six shots in the final 12 minutes.
Love’s breakaway dunk with 5:24 to play made it 61-38 and sealed the deal with a flourish.
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media