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Around the ACC: North Carolina falls on buzzer-beater in national title game

<p>North Carolina's Marcus Paige scored 22 points and knocked down four 3-pointers in&nbsp;Monday's national championship against Villanova, but the Wildcats took the crown with a dramatic buzzer-beater.</p>

North Carolina's Marcus Paige scored 22 points and knocked down four 3-pointers in Monday's national championship against Villanova, but the Wildcats took the crown with a dramatic buzzer-beater.

When the Elite Eight was set two weekends ago, the only certainty was that the ACC would get a team into the national title game.

North Carolina emerged as that representative, beating Notre Dame to reach its first Final Four since 2009 before running away from Syracuse in the second national semifinal to reach Monday's big stage.

But the Tar Heels' dreams were dashed at the final buzzer, when Villanova's Kris Jenkins buried a long 3-pointer as time expired to give the Wildcats a 77-74 victory and the program's first national title since 1985. The ACC finished the NCAA tournament with an overall 19-7 record among its seven teams that received bids.

Here's an in-depth look at how things unfolded for North Carolina and Syracuse during the season's final weekend:

North Carolina (33-7): The Tar Heels traded buckets with the Orange early on, but had little success from downtown in the opening 20 minutes Saturday night. Despite the slow start from 3-point range, Roy Williams' squad stormed into the locker room with an 11-point lead. North Carolina wound up just 4-for-17 from behind the arc—a fitting statistic for a team that ranked among the worst 3-point shooting teams in Tar Heel history—but created even more breathing room in the second half, paced by four double-digit scorers. Brice Johnson had 16 points to go with his nine rebounds, and point guard Joel Berry II came close to a triple-double with eight points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, propelling North Carolina into the national championship game against Villanova, which flattened Oklahoma 95-51 earlier Saturday—the largest margin of victory in Final Four history.

The Tar Heels and Wildcats went back and forth throughout Monday's contest, with North Carolina shooting uncharacteristically well from downtown in the first half. Led by Berry II and Justin Jackson, the Tar Heels knocked down seven of nine triples before the break, but led by just five heading into the locker room after a four-point swing at the end of the half during which Jackson's lay-up was blocked and Villanova's Phil Booth hit a mid-range jumper to beat the buzzer.

North Carolina cooled down in the second half and also struggled to get the ball inside to its much larger frontcourt of Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. The trio had just 22 points, and the Wildcats outscored the Tar Heels 32-26 in the paint despite boasting just one traditional post player in Daniel Ochefu. Villanova began to pull away and opened up a 67-57 lead in the second half, but senior Marcus Paige brought North Carolina back with eight points in the final 1:35, including an off-balance, double-clutch 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left to knot the score at 74. After a Wildcat timeout, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono drove upcourt and flipped the ball back to Jenkins, who had time and space to stick the game-winning shot over Hicks' outstretched hand.

Syracuse (23-14): The Orange cut the Tar Heel lead to seven with 9:51 left Saturday night on a Malachi Richardson 3-pointer, but Paige immediately responded with a triple of his own to get North Carolina back up by double-digits and Syracuse never got closer than nine the rest of the way. Trevor Cooney closed his career with 22 points and four 3-pointers and Richardson finished his first March Madness with 17 points, but the Orange were not able to fluster the Tar Heels with their trademark 2-3 zone. Former Blue Devil Michael Gbinije had 12 points in the last game of his career, but shot just 5-of-18 from the field and committed four turnovers before fouling out.

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