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NCAA men's tournament | UNC 69, Saint Peter's 49

North Carolina ends Saint Peter’s magical NCAA run with a victory in East Region final

Armando Bacot (5) of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots the ball as Fousseyni Drame (10) and KC Ndefo (11) of the St. Peter's Peacocks defend during the first half of Sunday's NCAA East Region final in Philadelphia.Patrick Smith/Getty

PHILADELPHIA — North Carolina crushed all hope of a March Madness miracle in the early going Sunday, getting 20 points and 22 rebounds from Armando Bacot in a wire-to-wire 69-49 runaway over 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s.

The eighth-seeded Tar Heels (28-9) made their record 21st Final Four, and next on their list is none other than archrival Duke and its soon-to-be-retiring coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

Next Saturday in New Orleans will mark the first Final Four meeting — first NCAA Tournament meeting, in fact — between the Tobacco Road archrivals whose campuses are separated by 11 miles in Harnett County, N.C.

While Coach K’s winding road to retirement has been a beauty to watch this March, nothing has captured more imaginations than the run put on by the underdog Peacocks (22-12), who made a stunning storybook run to the East Region final with upsets over second-seeded Kentucky in the first round, seventh-seeded Murray State in the second round and third-seeded Purdue to become the first No. 15 seed in tournament history to reach the Sweet 16.

Saint Peter's coach Shaheen Holloway leaves the floor after the Peacocks lost to North Carolina Sunday in the Elite Eight.Patrick Smith/Getty

The entire basketball budget for this scrappy group from Jersey City, N.J., is $1.6 million — or around $400,000 less than what Tar Heels first-year coach Hubert Davis, who was sobbing as his players enveloped him after the buzzer, makes in a year.

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“I’m just so happy for them,” said a tearful Davis, who earned his first trip to the Final Four in hjs first year as the Tar Heels coach after playing in one under legendary coach Dean Smith as a UNC player in the 1991 Final Four. “I love these guys so much, they trusted me in my first year and they allowed me to coach them and they allowed me to be in their lives and I’m here because of them.

“I has nothing to do with coaching, it’s all them and it’s tears of joy to be in their lives. It’s just awesome.”

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After Carolina’s Leaky Black missed a free throw 2½ minutes in, Bacot edged in for the offensive rebound and an easy putback. It gave Carolina a 7-0 lead. In its three tournament wins over Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue, Saint Peter’s had never trailed by more than six.

North Carolina's Brady Manek and Leaky Black celebrate with fans after Sunday's win.Tim Nwachukwu/Getty

The Peacocks, whose 10-game win streak ended, moved the ball well and got plenty of good looks over the first 10 minutes. Some shots went halfway down and rimmed out. Others bounced twice on the iron but wouldn’t fall. They trailed 21-7 after missing their first six shots, and 16 of their first 19.

Late in the first half, Daryl Banks III swooped in for what looked like a windmill jam. It got rejected — by the front of the rim. It made the Peacocks 5 for 27 on the night, and when Bacot dunked on the next possession, North Carolina led 36-15.

Fousseyni Drame led Saint Peter’s with 12 points and KC Ndefo had 10.