When the ball was finally tossed at tipoff, and cheers of “Tar” and “Heel” faded, the gravity of the game started to set in.
Junior global studies major Madeline McGee did not even think the Tar Heels would make it this far in the tournament.
When McGee brought up the possibility of being abroad during the national championship, her dad said she did not need to worry because it was not a possibility.
“I just thought out of any year, last year was the year,” McGee said. “I didn’t think it’d be this year.”
Sophomore Anna Bradsher, a media and journalism major, did not always have faith in the Tar Heel squad this season either.
“I knew we were good in the Elite Eight — it’s not that we were really that great, but none of the other teams were that great either,” Bradsher said. “After Villanova, Duke, and Kansas went out, I knew we could do it.”
Several students studying abroad in Sevilla considered returning to Chapel Hill to watch the game. Seteena Turner, a broadcast journalism and interpersonal communications major, weighed the decision and chose to stay in Spain.
“I was about, literally like two seconds away from buying a plane ticket back to Chapel Hill ... and I realized that I would’ve missed out on this great community that we have here, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Turner said.
Then, it happened. Kennedy Meeks blocked Gonzaga’s last substantial opportunity to catch up with 17 seconds left, and Joel Berry picked up the loose ball and passed to Justin Jackson, who took a two-handed slam to Gonzaga’s dreams of its first national championship. Berry took away any doubt when he drained a free throw to put the Tar Heels up 71-65 — the final score.
Phoenix Pub saw the tears of redemption, heard the screams of ecstasy and felt the tremors of stomping feet as Tar Heels rushed outside to cheer even louder.
In the same moment, Franklin Street filled with an estimated 55,000 people, singing the same songs and feeling the same relief, after a year of remorse left over from the 2016 National Championship game.
“I’m upset because I’m not there, but it’s okay,” McManus said. “Why? Because we’re the national champions of 2017, dammit.”