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North Carolina beats Gonzaga for national championship

North Carolina coach Roy Williams and players celebrate after winning the national championship Monday in Glendale, Ariz.
| David J. Phillip/AP

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s OK, North Carolina, you can open your eyes now.

An unwatchable game turned into a beautiful night for the Tar Heels, who turned a free-throw contest into a championship they’ve been waiting an entire season to celebrate.

Justin Jackson converted a go-ahead three-point play with 1:40 left, and North Carolina pulled away down the stretch for a 71-65 victory against Gonzaga that washed away a year’s worth of heartache.

It was, in the Tar Heels’ words, a redemption tour fueled by a devastating loss to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer at the buzzer in the title game last season.

‘‘I wanted to see this confetti fall on us, and we’re the winners,’’ said guard Joel Berry II, who led North Carolina with 22 points. ‘‘We came out here and competed. It came down to the last second, but we’re national champs now.’’

Berry, along with most of coach Roy Williams’ players, returned for another run. But to say everything went right for the Tar Heels at the Final Four would be inaccurate.

North Carolina (33-7) followed a terrible shooting night in the semifinals Saturday against Oregon with an equally bad performance in the final, going 4-for-27 from three-point range and 26-for-73 overall.

The Bulldogs, helped by eight consecutive points from Nigel Williams-Goss, took a two-point lead with 1:52 left, but the next possession was the game-changer.

Jackson took a zinger of a pass under the basket from Theo Pinson and converted the shot, then made the ensuing free throw to give the Tar Heels a 66-65 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Moments later, Williams-Goss twisted an ankle and couldn’t elevate for a jumper that would have given Gonzaga (37-2) the lead.

Isaiah Hicks made a basket to push North Carolina’s lead to three, then Kennedy Meeks — who was in foul trouble all night — blocked a shot by Williams-Goss to spark a fast break that ended with a dunk by Jackson on the other end to put some icing on the Tar Heels’ sixth national title.

Williams notched his third title, putting him one ahead of mentor Dean Smith and behind only John Wooden (10), Adolph Rupp (five)and Mike Krzyzewski (five).

‘‘I think of coach Smith, there’s no question,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I’ve got these guys with me, and that’s all I care about right now — my guys.’’

Berry recovered from ankle injuries to lead North Carolina, but he needed 19 shots to score his 22 points. Jackson added 16 points on a 6-for-19 shooting, and the Tar Heels actually shot a percentage point worse than they did in their victory against Oregon.

In many corners, the game primarily will be remembered for three men — referees Michael Stephens, Verne Harris and Mike Eades — who called 27 fouls in the second half, completely busted up the flow of the game and sent Meeks, Gonzaga 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins and a host of others to the bench in foul trouble.

Bulldogs coach Mark Few handled it with class, calling the refs ‘‘three of the best officials in the entire country.’’

But he might have wanted a further review on a scrum with 50 seconds left. The refs were taking heat on social media for calling a held ball, which gave possession to North Carolina, on a pileup under the Tar Heels’ offensive basket. It set up the layup by Hicks that put them ahead by three. One problem: Meeks’ hand was out of bounds.

‘‘That was probably on me,’’ Few said. ‘‘From my angle, it didn’t look like an out-of-bounds situation, or I would have called a review. That’s tough to hear.’’

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