With the game on the line, North Carolina put Oregon away by doing what it does best.
As gifted offensively and athletically as the North Carolina Tar Heels are, the team’s biggest strength all season long has been in an area of basketball that the kids would call, well, boring.
No team in college basketball averages more rebounds per game (43.7) than North Carolina, and no team in college basketball rebounds a higher percentage of its own missed shots (40.9 percent) than the Tar Heels. While those may not be statistics that wow the country like points per game or three-point shooting percentage, they represent a skill-set that may have just saved UNC’s national title hopes.
In the closing seconds of its win over Oregon in the Final Four Saturday night, North Carolina seemed determined to put themselves in a position where a buzzer-beater could break their hearts even more completely than Kris Jenkins did a year ago.
Clinging to a 77-76 lead with just five seconds to play, Kennedy Meeks missed two free-throws. Instead of Oregon racing down the court for a potential game-winner, Theo Pinson was able to tap the offensive rebound back to Joel Berry, who was then sent back to the line.
After Berry too missed a pair of freebies at the stripe, it was Meeks who came down with the offensive board to secure the victory and send North Carolina to its second consecutive national title game appearance.
For the game, North Carolina finished with 17 offensive rebounds. Never underestimate the importance of attacking the glass, kids.