How Kansas made March Madness history with epic comeback over North Carolina to win NCAA championship game


As the confetti rained down and his players danced around him in celebration of Kansas’ 72-69 victory over North Carolina in the national championship game on Monday night, KU coach Bill Self began to explain what he said to his team at halftime. With the Jayhawks trailing 40-25 at the break, surely the coach had a dramatic speech for the ages that helped his team turn their fortunes around, right?

According to Self, that was not the case.

“I really didn’t say much,” Self told Jim Nantz. 

But Self did hearken back 14 years to his first national title as the Jayhawks’ coach to help his team realize what was possible in the second half. In that 2008 title game, KU roared back from a late deficit to beat Memphis.

“I told them at halftime, ‘would you rather be down 15 with 20 left or down 9 with 2 left?'” Self said. “Because that was obviously what happened in 2008.”

A generation has passed in college basketball since KU’s win over a Memphis team that was led by Derrick Rose. Mario Chalmers, the KU player who hit the famous game-tying shot in that contest, turns 36 next month. KU’s current players were just kids then. But the message resonated.

The Jayhawks came out of the locker room with a 31-10 run to change the narrative of the game entirely. Key to the spurt was the play of David McCormack. After getting bested in the first half by North Carolina’s hobbled big man Armando Bacot, KU’s senior center looked like a man on a mission in the second half. He opened the half by finishing a lob dunk and also made two clutch shots in the final two minutes with the game on the line.

He also shared some words of wisdom at halftime in what was apparently a locker room without panic. 

“I was in the locker room and I was smiling to my teammates,” McCormack told Tracy Wolfson. “They thought I was crazy. I said, ‘yo, we just come out here, we have fun and do what we was born to do.’ I looked at Ochai [Agbaji], I looked at CB [Christian Braun], I looked at Remy [Martin], I looked at everybody [and said] ‘do what got us to this moment,’ and we just executed.”

It was a script Kansas was familiar with from outscoring Miami 47-15 in the second half during the Elite Eight after trailing the Hurricanes 35-29 at halftime. The big difference Monday was that a national title was on the line.

“We were disappointed with how we played in the first half,” Self said. “Carolina was obviously the much better team. But this team has been down before.”