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The Kansas Jayhawks are the new men's NCAA basketball champions

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

You could call this season's Kansas Jayhawks the ultimate comeback kids after their 72-69 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in last night's NCAA basketball championship game. From New Orleans, Greg Echlin tells us why.

GREG ECHLIN, BYLINE: It was a matchup of two teams rich in college basketball history and in a setting that felt like normal again. The pandemic wiped out the tournament two years ago, and last year's championship was in a bubble in the state of Indiana. The buzz was back. After trailing by 16 points near the close of the first half, the Jayhawks staged a second-half comeback for the ages - the biggest comeback in championship game history. Jayhawks senior Ochai Agbaji, voted the most outstanding player, says KU had been accustomed to facing uphill battles this season.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OCHAI AGBAJI: It was just a matter of us playing our game and executing in the second half and taking away what they were - you know, what they were getting at in the first half.

ECHLIN: KU went to its big man in the middle, David McCormack, down the stretch. He scored the game's final four points and was happy to come through when the Jayhawks needed it the most.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID MCCORMACK: I just prevailed, and I made the basket happen. I just - I appreciate them for allowing me to have that opportunity.

ECHLIN: The championship provided a poignant moment for Jayhawks coach Bill Self, whose father was a product of the Dust Bowl days in Oklahoma. He passed away during the season. Self says he thought about his dad after the game was over.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL SELF: He always felt that, you know, nothing was ever given. Everything had to be earned. And so I think he would be very proud of this team because he knows, without question, they earned what happened tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

ECHLIN: The Tar Heels made their own history under first-year coach Hubert Davis. No coach in his first full season on the bench has ever taken a team to the championship game, but Davis wanted to be the champion with the Tar Heels.

For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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