North Carolina ends Saint Peter’s Cinderella run; Duke up next in Final Four
PHILADELPHIA — After stopping Saint Peter’s storybook run, North Carolina is in position 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.
Bacot, Manek 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 and had only eight turnovers.
— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) March 27, 2022
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.
First-year UNC coach Hubert Davis fought through tears and shook his head before his team cut down the nets in Philadelphia. He became the first coach to take a team to the Final Four in his first season since Bill Guthridge in 1998 — also at North Carolina.
Roy Williams, Davis’ longtime boss and predecessor before retiring last year, was on hand to watch both Tar Heels victories this weekend.
“I just really desperately wanted this for them,” Davis said. “I love these guys so much. They trusted me in my first year. They allowed me to coach them and allowed me to be in their life, and I’m here because of them.”
After a tepid 12-6 start to their season, the Tar Heels have won 16 of their past 19 games. They took down Marquette, defending champion Baylor and UCLA to advance to the regional final.
Now they have ended an improbable run by Saint Peter’s (22-12), the small New Jersey commuter school that became the first No. 15 seed in tournament history to reach the Elite Eight.
“They shocked the world,” Peacocks coach Shaheen Holloway said. “I’m super proud of these guys. They came in and made history, point blank, period.”
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.
Ndefo acknowledged his team’s historic accomplishment, but he also made clear that the Peacocks believed they could have won Sunday, too.
“Our defensive intensity wasn’t up to par today,” Ndefo said. “Like Coach said, we give a lot of credit to them. They’re a talented team. But today was on us.”
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, a fifth-year transfer from Oklahoma, 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.
Guided by Bacot’s 22 rebounds — which tied Tyler Zeller’s program record for most in a single NCAA Tournament game — the Tar Heels controlled the glass, 49-33.
“They (Saint Peter’s) hang their hat on punching teams in the mouth, being the underdog, that kind of thing,” UNC point guard Leaky Black said. “But we just had to let them know it wasn’t going to happen tonight.”
Davis declined a question about the Tar Heels’ next opponent.
“The only thing on my mind is celebrating with the rest of the players on what just happened today,” he said. “Next week will be next week. And we’ll deal with that next week. But right now I don’t want to think about next week and lose the moment of today.”
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