USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken explains how the Tar Heels clawed their way to the national championship by edging Gonzaga.
USA TODAY Sports
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the final seconds of North Carolina’s victory over Gonzaga Monday night, guard Joel Berry II said he asked Tar Heels coach Roy Williams to take a timeout. So that Berry didn’t lose control of his emotions.
With about 17 seconds left, Berry scooped up the loose ball after North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks blocked a shot by Nigel Williams-Goss. Then Berry passed to teammate Justin Jackson for a breakaway dunk that gave North Carolina a 70-65 lead with 12 seconds to play.
“When Kennedy blocked that shot and I grabbed the ball and threw it to Justin, I immediately almost started crying,” Berry said. “And then we got, Kennedy got another steal and I went and found the ball and I got fouled.”
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“And we were just sitting there. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden the ref came up to me and said, your coach wants to know if you want a timeout, and I said yes.
And I went up to Coach and I just hugged him. I told him, I’m about to cry. And he just told me, you know what, just go out there and knock your free throws in. And I know I missed the first one. But I tried to focus in on that second one.”
The faucet almost opened again when Berry was fouled with seven seconds to play.
“I told coach to take a timeout before my free throw because I was about to just lose it,’’ he said.
Following the timeout, Berry made one of two free throws and soon was celebrating North Carolina’s 71-65 victory and the Most Outstanding Player award for the Final Four he was awarded.
A year after losing to Villanova on a last-second shot in the 2016 championship game, Berry had overcome ankle injuries, faced questions about the ongoing investigation into academic improprieties at North Carolina and a grueling season.
“It’s been a hard road,’’ he said. “Now we can forget about what happened last year and just realize and enjoy the moment.’’
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