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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - North Carolina dedicated the past year to redeeming itself for 4.7 agonizing seconds.
Now these Tar Heels will hang another banner from the Smith Center rafters. Or the ceiling. But probably not the roof.
No longer haunted by the memory of a buzzer-beating loss in last year's title game, but galvanized by a misstatement from their most decorated former player, the Tar Heels returned home Tuesday with their sixth NCAA Tournament trophy, which they earned a night earlier by beating Gonzaga in the championship game.
"This year," senior Isaiah Hicks said, "we did it."
Thousands of fans poured into the arena and onto the court before the team's flight had even landed at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and they cheered fanatically every time live footage of the team's motorcade was shown on the video scoreboards.
When the individual players were introduced, they showered Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Justin Jackson with chants of "one more year."
"It just didn't seem like we were going to get back to where we wanted to be, and you all did a great job," said guard Joel Berry II, still wearing the net from the title game around his neck. "We just basically did our thing, and we came back home with it."
This was the first time the team and its fans were together inside the Smith Center since a victory over Duke in the regular-season finale exactly one month earlier — a night made memorable by Michael Jordan's surprise appearance at halftime to announce a partnership between the athletic department and his Nike line.