Sunday's NCAA Tournament: Kansas reaches 16th Final Four, Carolina crushes Saint Peter's

Associated Press

Chicago — Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Christian Braun powered a dazzling second half for Kansas, and the top-seeded Jayhawks pounded Miami 76-50 on Sunday to advance to the program's 16th Final Four.

Agbaji scored 18 points, McCormack had 15 and Braun finished with 12, helping Kansas rally after a lackluster start. The Jayhawks trailed by six points at halftime but outscored Miami 47-15 in the final 20 minutes.

Kansas' Christian Braun dunks during the second half of a college basketball game in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA tournament Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Kansas (32-6), the only No. 1 seed left in the NCAA Tournament, won the Midwest Region for the 13th time with its ninth consecutive victory overall. Next up is the national semifinals and a matchup with Villanova on Saturday in New Orleans.

It's the fourth Final Four for coach Bill Self in his 19 seasons at Kansas. The last time the Jayhawks made it to the semis, they lost 95-79 to coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats in 2018.

Kameron McGusty scored 18 points and Isaiah Wong had 15 for No. 10 seed Miami in the program's first appearance in the Elite Eight. The Hurricanes (26-11) were bidding to get coach Jim Larrañaga back to the Final Four for the first time since he led 11th-seeded George Mason there in 2006.

McGusty spent two seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to Miami, averaging 13.5 points in four games against Kansas. And he looked quite comfortable playing against the Jayhawks again.

The redshirt senior guard scored 14 points to help the Hurricanes to a 35-29 halftime lead. But everything changed after the break.

With McCormack asserting himself inside and Braun and Ogbai picking up their play on the perimeter, Kansas outscored Miami 25-7 over the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Jalen Wilson made two foul shots and Agbaji connected from 3 to lift the Jayhawks to a 54-42 lead with 10:14 left. And the Big 12 champions just kept rolling.

A dunk by Agbaji capped a 10-0 run and made it 67-46 with 4:35 left, delighting the pro-Kansas crowd at the United Center. A 3 by Agbaji extended the lead to 23 points with 1:58 remaining.

EAST REGION

North Carolina 69, Saint Peters 49: North Carolina crushed all hope of a March Madness miracle in the early going Sunday, getting 20 points and 22 rebounds from Armando Bacot in a wire-to-wire 69-49 runaway over 15th-seeded Saint Peter's.

The eighth-seeded Tar Heels (28-9) made their record 21st Final Four, and next on their list is none other than archrival Duke and its soon-to-be-retiring coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

North Carolina's Armando Bacot, right, collides with St. Peter's KC Ndefo.

Next Saturday in New Orleans will mark the first Final Four meeting — first NCAA Tournament meeting, in fact — between the Tobacco Road archrivals whose campuses are separated by 11 miles.

While Coach K’s winding road to retirement has been a beauty to watch this March, nothing has captured more imaginations than the run put on by underdog Saint Peter’s. The entire basketball budget for this scrappy group from Jersey City, New Jersey, is $1.6 million — or around $400,000 less than what Tar Heels first-year coach Hubert Davis, who was sobbing as his players enveloped him after the buzzer, makes in a year.

Two nights earlier, the Peacocks (21-12) beat Purdue to become the first 15 seed to advance to an Elite Eight. They are hardly the first team to see grand plans undone by one of the country’s top-line power programs.

It got ugly early.

After Carolina's Leaky Black missed a free throw 2 1/2 minutes in, Bacot edged in for the offensive rebound and an easy putback. It gave Carolina a 7-0 lead. In its three tournament wins over Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue, Saint Peter’s had never trailed by more than six.

The Peacocks, whose 10-game win streak ended, moved the ball well and got plenty of good looks over the first 10 minutes. Some shots went halfway down and rimmed out. Others bounced twice on the iron but wouldn’t fall. They trailed 21-7 after missing their first six shots, and 16 of their first 19.

Late in the first half, Daryl Banks III swooped in for what looked like a windmill jam. It got rejected — by the front of the rim. It made the Peacocks 5 for 27 on the night, and when Bacot dunked on the next possession, North Carolina led 36-15.

Fousseyni Drame led Saint Peter's with 12 points and KC Ndefo had 10.

The weekend before, North Carolina had taken a 25-point lead against Baylor only to see it all melt away before pulling the game out in overtime. The turning point there came when Brady Manek got ejected for throwing an inadvertent elbow. Manek finished this game on the sideline, too — watching garbage time from the bench after scoring 19 points.

It was an emotional evening for Davis, who replaced Roy Williams, the coach who took the Tar Heels to five Final Fours over 18 years. Now the 51-year-old Davis joins the likes of Ray Meyer, Steve Fisher and Denny Crum as rookies to reach the sport’s biggest stage.

Were it not for Saint Peter’s, maybe North Carolina would be the underdog story of this tournament. Way back when, in 1985, another 8 seed shocked the world. It was Rollie Massimino’s 1985 Villanova team.

Then again, these are the Tar Heels. They’ve been playing as well as anyone for more than a month.

When they put a 94-81 beatdown on Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 5, it cast a cloud over what was supposed to be a celebration of Coach K’s final home game. On Sunday, they wrecked another of those so-called “perfect” story lines.

But this is more than a consolation prize for college hoops: Next, UNC and Duke meet for the 258th time — and never with the stakes so high.