In the biggest comeback in NCAA Championship Game history, Kansas nipped North Carolina 72-69 Monday night to capture the national championship. The title was the fourth for the Jayhawks and marks the 6th national championship game defeat for the Tar Heels. In winning, Bill Self won his second national championship as a head coach, a title made all the more special to Self given the loss of his father earlier this season.

Here are Saturday Road’s keys to Kansas winning a thrilling national championship game.

Playing hurt, Armando Bacot dominated the first half

Bacot, playing on a minor ankle sprain he suffered late in the Final Four game against Duke, looked gimpy and uncomfortable to start the game and appeared hobbled after diving for a loose ball on the game’s second possession.

The All-ACC center fought his way through the pain and by the middle of the first half, Bacot had taken over the game. With 12 points and 10 rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, Bacot had his 31st double-double of the season wrapped up by halftime. In so doing, Bacot became the first player in NCAA Tournament history to collect a double-double in 6 NCAA Tournament games. Bacot also played tenacious defense inside, bothering Kansas’ driving guards with his length and, for at least a half, bottling up David McCormack, who had dominated Villanova with 25 points and 9 rebounds in the national semifinal.

Led by Bacot’s 4 offensive rebounds, the Tar Heels scored 18 second-chance points in the first half, 16 more than the Jayhawks. UNC offset its first-half shooting struggles (Carolina shot just 36% in the opening half) with easy baskets at the rim and 16 first-half attempts at the free-throw line (compared to just 4 for Kansas). The result was a 15-point North Carolina halftime lead, and a Kansas offense that never seemed comfortable with Bacot protecting the rim with his length and helping Carolina quickly clean up Kansas’ misses on the glass.

Bacot was less effective in the second half, as an adjustment by Self and Kansas pulled him away from the rim and forced Carolina into uncomfortable mismatches. Worse, Bacot reinjured the ankle with the Tar Heels trailing by 1 and 38 seconds to go, and in Bacot’s absence, it was McCormack, freed from Bacot’s steady defense, who hit the dagger bucket over the smaller Brady Manek.

Leaky Black harassed and frustrated Kansas All-American Ochai Agbaji throughout the game

Leaky Black, the Tar Heels’ best perimeter defender, got lost on the game’s opening possession and was punished by Kansas All-American Ochai Agbaji, who buried a long jumper to give the Jayhawks a 3-0 lead, just as he had to open Kansas’ rout of Villanova in the Final Four. Agbaji fooled Black on a jab step baseline drive moments later, putting Kansas up 7-0, and it looked like the Jayhawks’ future lottery pick was going to overwhelm the North Carolina defense. But Black battled back. Agbaji was limited to just 3 points for the remainder of the opening half, with Black making it difficult for the Kansas star to find space to receive the ball, drive or shoot off the catch.

Agbaji did tie the game on a terrific 3-point play finish at the rim in the second half, but the Big 12 Player of the Year made only 4-of-9 shots and finished with 12 points and 2 turnovers.

Most nights this season when Agbaji has been that quiet, Kansas has lost. Monday night, his brilliant backcourt teammates picked up the slack.

Kansas overcame Agbaji’s struggles thanks to a brilliant Christian Braun and the magnificent Remy Martin

Braun, a 6-6 matchup nightmare, had just 2 points in first half, but the All-Big 12 guard exploded in the second half, scoring 10 points, almost all of which came in transition, to pace the Jayhawks’ comeback. Braun also helped Kansas compete on the glass, grabbing 12 rebounds to stabilize their efforts on the glass. Braun also tallied 3 assists, all in the second half, as Kansas found a rhythm despite Agbaji’s struggles.

The real story, though, was Remy Martin. The diminutive super senior transfer from Arizona State scored all 14 of his points in the second half, including a late shot clock, step-back 3 that put Kansas up 3 with just over 2 minutes to play.

Martin also finished at the tin in traffic, as Kansas surged back in front late just as it seemed North Carolina was steadying themselves after losing the 15-point lead.

But Martin saved perhaps his most crucial play for last, blocking a Caleb Love layup with the Jayhawks clinging to a 1-point lead with under a minute to play. The 6-foot Martin blocked only 1 shot in the regular season, but when you swat one late in the national championship game to help seal a win, it lives forever.

Caleb Love struggled. This time, North Carolina couldn’t recover

Another NCAA Tournament game, another quiet first half for Caleb Love. It had happened before in this NCAA Tournament, but only once — in North Carolina’s overtime win against Baylor — did Love’s struggles extend to the second half.

In the first half, it looked like the Tar Heels may win in spite of their sophomore star. Typically, the Tar Heels would struggle in a half where Love shot 1-for-6 from the field, had to sit 6 minutes with 2 fouls, and coughed up multiple turnovers, one of which led to quick Jayhawks transition points. But they led by 15 at the break thanks to the steady hands of RJ Davis running the offense and the ice-water that must run through Brady Manek’s veins.

Manek had a massive first half, connecting on 3 triples, grabbing 5 rebounds in the opening half despite taking a David McCormack inadvertent elbow to the face early in the game. Manek also played one of the best defensive games in his career, blocking 4 shots and altering several others as North Carolina made life difficult on the Jayhawks in the paint.

For a moment, it looked like Love was going to steady himself in the second half. Love scored 7 of the Tar Heels’ first 10 points of the second half, but the buckets were spread out over the second half’s first 10 minutes, as a red-hot Jayhawks team flipped a 15-point halftime deficit into a 57-51 lead with 9 minutes to play.

Love helped the Tar Heels tie the game twice — 57-57 and 65-65 — but he never found any consistent rhythm offensively and until late, was tentative attacking the rim, which has been his strong suit throughout the NCAA Tournament.

On the night, Love shot a miserable 5-for-24, including 1-for-8 from deep, numbers that featured his two failed 3-point attempts late, one of which was a bizarre 27-footer when he could have and should have simply attacked and tried to extend the game against a defense content to give up a two. Love added 4 turnovers to cap his misery, and despite a double-double from Davis (15 points, 12 rebounds) and the heroics of Manek, whose tenacity on the glass late gave the Tar Heels their final lead, at 69-68, the Tar Heels couldn’t recover from Love’s off-night.

The future of Carolina basketball under Hubert Davis is bright

Monday night’s loss will sting for a long time in Chapel Hill, and it should.

The Tar Heels had the Jayhawks on the ropes at halftime and let them off the hook. National championship number 7 was within reach, and North Carolina couldn’t finish. Instead, the Tar Heels became a historical footnote, the program and the team that surrendered the largest lead (16 points) in NCAA Championship game history.

By the time next season rolls around, though, Carolina fans will also recognize that with essentially a 6-man rotation, North Carolina went from a team on the wrong side of the bubble in mid-February after a home loss to lowly Pitt to a team that came an off-night from Love and a healthy Armando Bacot ankle from hanging another national championship banner. All that happened in Year 1 under Hubert Davis, who showed Tar Heel nation what Roy Williams knew all along: That he was the best man for the job, and the right coach to lead North Carolina into a bright future.

Plus, no matter what happened Monday night, the Iron Five will always be the team that retired Coach K. That’s not a national championship, but it is still priceless.