NEW ORLEANS – David McCormack's two late baskets in the paint to help Kansas surge past North Carolina during the NCAA championship game followed a Final Four trend.
The way teams played in the post had a major influence on how the games turned out.
McCormack scored the final four points of Monday night's national title game to finish with 15 points and 10 rebounds in Kansas' 72-69 triumph.
“It shows how much trust coach (Bill Self) and teammates have in me,” McCormack said. “Coach called the play and said we’re going to throw it inside and we have trust in you and faith in you to deliver and get us a basket. I just prevailed, I made the basket happen. I appreciate them for allowing me to have that opportunity.”
The late-game heroics capped a memorable Final Four for the Jayhawks’ big man.
McCormack's final basket came after Tar Heels center Armando Bacot, whose strong start helped stake North Carolina to a 15-point halftime lead, needed help getting to the bench after re-aggravating an ankle injury that occurred during the second half of his influential semifinal performance on Saturday night.
In Saturday's semifinal game against Villanova, the Wildcats lacked the size to handle the 6-foot-10 McCormack, who had two inches on anyone guarding him. He threw down several thunderous dunks and motioned repeatedly to Kansas fans to “raise the roof” of the Superdome on his way to a game-high 25 points.
The Jayhawks rolled to an 81-65 victory in which they led most of the second half by double digits.
Bacot, meanwhile, outplayed Duke's post players in the other semifinal.
With 7-1 Duke center Mark Williams in foul trouble and playing just 16 minutes, Bacot was able to take command of the paint, grabbing 21 rebounds to go with his 11 points. Williams finished with eight points and four rebounds, and the Tar Heels pulled out an 81-77 victory.
With McCormack and the Jayhawks' 6-8 Mitch Lightfoot limited by foul trouble in the first half of the final, Bacot had 12 points and 10 rebounds through the first 20 minutes, despite his sore ankle. The Tar Heels led by as many as 16 points late in the first half.
But McCormack asserted himself in the second half, when he had nine points and seven rebounds. Bacot was limited to just three points and five rebounds in the final 20 minutes as Kansas outscored the Tar Heels by 18 to pull off the largest comeback in an NCAA Tournament title game.
Bacot said playing McCormack while hobbled “was definitely tough just because he’s a bigger guy.”
“I really couldn’t, the whole game, get the push on anything on my post-ups, defensively, anything,” Bacot added. “It was just hard for me to really just stand my ground.”
McCormack simply wouldn't be denied down the stretch. The first of the late baskets for came after rebounding his own miss and putting the ball back up over two defenders.
“Game’s on the line. You’ve got adrenaline pumping. You’ve got a desire you’re going to get it,” McCormack said. “Snatch a rebound with two hands. Coach talks about keeping the ball high and going right back up. That’s what was going through my mind. I’m right here, we work on touch shots every day. I’m able to use both hands. ... Get a quick basket and get back on defense."
While Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji was named the Final Four Most Valuable Player, the high-scoring guard indicated he would not have voted for himself, but his dominant teammate down low.
"If I really had a most outstanding player throughout the entire Final Four, it would be David,” Agbaji said.
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25