PHILADELPHIA – North Carolina is back in the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time since 2017, beating Saint Peter’s 69-49.
The Tar Heels routed the upstart Saint Peter’s team to get there and will face their longtime rival Duke in the national semifinal.
Armando Bacot and Brady Manek were among those who set the edge for the Tar Heels.
Bacot finished with 20 points and 22 rebounds, including eight offensive boards. He added two blocks in North Carolina’s win. Manek was 7-for-11 from the field, including 4-of-6 from the three-point line. Manek finished with 19 points and eight rebounds in the win.
Caleb Love added 14 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Bacot admitted he was a bit emotional once the seconds started to tick down.
"I would just say even from the beginning of the year, I mean that was one of our biggest goals to just get to the Final Four. We never wanted to look past Saint Peter's because they've been a great team and they beat two teams that beat us. But towards the end, once I realized we were really going to the Final Four, it started to sink in and definitely started getting emotional," Bacot said. "Me and all the players and the coaches too, because we battled through so much this year. And just to have the fight and adversity just to get through all this, it was special."
North Carolina started the first half capitalizing on Saint Peter’s misses. The Tar Heels went on a 7-0 run before Peacocks forward Hassan Dame nailed a three-pointer to get on the board about 5 minutes into the game.
With 11:40 left in the first half, Saint Peter’s was 3-for-13 from the field while North Carolina was 4-for-14. North Carolina would then use a 12-2 run to jump out to a 14-point lead.
North Carolina went into the break shooting 41.7% while Saint Peter’s was being held to 22.6% and were 1-for-11 from beyond the arc. North Carolina was also out-rebounding Saint Peter’s 26-19.
North Carolina had a 21-point lead at halftime.
Fousseyni Drame had 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench in the loss. KC Ndefo had 10 points, seven rebounds, six blocks three assists and three steals.
Saint Peter’s, which came into the tournament as a No. 15 seed, became the first such seed to make the Elite Eight. The Peacocks beat Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue to get to the regional final. Their run became one of the best Cinderella stories in recent memory but they just fell short.
North Carolina is back in the Final Four – the first time under coach Hubert Davis. He took over for Roy Williams, who retired following the 2020-21 season.
"I think I always tell the guys, or anybody, if I'm only coaching basketball, then I need to quit or be fired. I'm not just a basketball coach. My job is to help and to teach and to care for them on the court, off the court, and in the classroom.," Davis said when asked about the team being written off at times during the year.
"We use basketball as teachable life moments. And this season is giving these guys an opportunity to see what hard work does, perseverance, resiliency, togetherness. It's a great lesson for them, not just in basketball, but in life. And to see their smiles and see how happy they are, see the tears of joy at the end of the game and on the floor and in the locker room is something that you'll remember for the rest of your life."
Davis will lead the Tar Heels into the ultimate rivalry matchup against Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has led Duke to a Final Four for the 13th time and in his final run would want nothing more than to end his coaching career with a national championship.
The Final Four is set for April 2 with the national championship taking place April 4. The games will take place at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.