Caleb Love was the hero for North Carolina in the Tar Heels’ epic Final Four win over Duke. The same can not be said for Love considering his performance in the National Championship game against Kansas, though.
In fact, it’s worth considering that Love’s epic shooting against the Blue Devils actually hurt UNC in Monday night’s title game matchup with the Jayhawks.
North Carolina looked incredible in the first half of the championship game
North Carolina looked like a team that could blow out Kansas by 30 in the first half of the ballgame. The Tar Heels were cool, calm, and collected after Kansas jumped out to an early 7-0 lead.
Brady Manek responded with the first of his three first-half three-pointers to get UNC on the board, and the Tar Heels slowly but surely chipped away at the Jayhawks before securing their first lead of the game with 13:30 to go.
With the game tied at 22 with 5:49 to go in the half, Manek hit his second three, and less than a minute later hit his third to give UNC a 28-22 lead.
Kansas head coach Bill Self saw enough and called a timeout to rally his team together, but it didn’t matter. UNC went on a 10-0 run over the next three minutes and went into halftime up 15 points, 40-25.
The Tar Heels had outscored the Jayhawks 40-18 after Kansas jumped out to the early lead. Perhaps most impressively, they owned an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points heading into the break.
UNC appeared to be a team on a mission while Kansas looked shocked by the big lights of the moment, but that all changed at halftime.
UNC’s poor shooting in the second half aided the Kansas comeback
Whether it was the halftime orange slices or the adjustments made by Self in the locker room, Kansas burst out of the gate ready to turn its fortunes around in the second half.
Big-man David McCormack set the tone with a massive alley-oop slam set up by beautiful pick-and-roll action with Dajuan Harris Jr. Christian Braun, who played a significant role in the Final Four victory over Villanova, burst out of the gate with six points in the first five minutes of the half. He ultimatly finished with a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Much of his damage was done in the second half.
UNC sophomore guard Caleb Love tried to keep pace with the Jayhawks and stop their momentum. Though he did add a big three-pointer and a subsequently made jumper in the first few minutes of the second half, those points came off 2-of-6 shooting in the early going, which was the continuation of a troubling trend from the first half.
Caleb Love’s confidence to shoot ended up hurting the Tar Heels
The thing is, Love undoubtedly entered the game with the green light to shoot from head coach Hubert Davis. He put up a game-high 28 points in the win over Duke, 22 in the second half. In that explosion of scoring was one of the biggest shots in UNC history. Love nailed a dagger of a three with 26.4 seconds to go to give his team a four-point lead over Duke.
One of the big questions heading into this game was whether or not Love could keep up his hot shooting touch, but it was quickly apparent that he had used up most of his magic against Duke.
He made just one-of-six shots in the first half and clearly didn’t have the “it” factor he had in the Duke game. Still, he was far from afraid to shoot his shot in the second half, but that, unfortunately, led to a whole lot of innefficnent possessions for UNC.
That cold shooting undoubtedly helped KU get back in the game.
To be fair to Love, he was far from the only UNC player who went cold for North Carolina. For instance, Manek went just 1-of-3, and big-man Armando Bacot went 0-7 from the field in the second half.
Still, for Love to be as off as he was, Davis probably should have tried to reel him in a bit. That was a critical mistake from UNC’s rookie head coach. The confidence Love shot with against Duke actually hurt the Tar Heels against Kansas.
Perhaps the Tar Heels were tired. They had just made it to the National Championship as a No. 8 seed, after all. They had to go through the gauntlet of No. 9 Marquette, No. 1 Baylor, No. 4 UCLA, No. 15 (but tournament sweetheart) Saint Peter’s, and No. 2 Duke to get there.
Love wouldn’t make that excuse after the game, though, and good for him.
“It was the national championship. I don’t think anybody was thinking about being tired,” he said, according to 247Sports.
Still, Love shot the ball 16 times in the second half, and he made just four of those attempts.
There was also his terrible look to end the game.
With the game on the line and UNC gifted one-last shot to tie the game thanks to a sloppy Kansas turnover with four seconds to go, Love immediately took the inbound play and jacked up a three that was way too close to the logo to be considered a good shot. This was despite the fact that North Carolina did have time to set something better up.
If it was the Love who showed up against Duke taking that shot, you live with it 10 out of 10 times. The player who showed up against Kansas was a completely different shooter, though, and that undoubtedly played a role in the loss for UNC.
“We were just trying to go out there and do whatever we had to do to get the win,” Love said after the game. “It was just unfortunate that we came up short.”
Stats courtesy of ESPN.