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Chapel Hill prepares for another storming of the streets as UNC tries for a 7th NCAA title

 One UNC fan participates in a bit of fire-jumping on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill after UNC beat Duke in the Final Four.
Peyton Sickles
One UNC fan participates in a bit of fire-jumping on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill after UNC beat Duke in the Final Four.

Officials in Chapel Hill are preparing for another possible storming of Franklin Street as North Carolina takes on Kansas in the NCAA Championship tonight.

Carolina fans don't want to jinx anything, of course, but town officials have to be prepared, just in case, for the second such event in the past three days.

Police are well-versed in this kind of thing, and they are again urging people not to build and jump over bonfires, or shoot off sparklers and fireworks.

On Saturday night, four people were injured and one person was arrested for carrying a concealed handgun after consuming alcohol. Officials estimated about 40,000 people stormed the street.

Along with the usual preparations, officials also get creative. Before Saturday night's game, UNC maintenance personnel were spied in a local grocery story, buying up every last can of Pam Cooking Spray. Their strategy was to grease the poles along Franklin Street to make it harder for revelers to climb them.

As photographic evidence showed, it did not work.

On social media, the Carolina Basketball account tweeted out an "excused-from-work letter" from UNC head coach Hubert Davis that fans could download.

Some parking lots on UNC-Chapel Hill's campus will close at 5 p.m. Doors open at 8 p.m. tonight at the Smith Center for a watch party. On Saturday, thousands of students stormed the court after the win over Duke – a court upon which no game had been played.

As the biggest rivals in the sport traded huge baskets in the Big Easy on Saturday night, the anxiety emotion and stress was permeating 850 miles away in Chapel Hill.

"It felt like every time either team scored it was life or death. Like every shot felt so important. And then. I mean, the game was it was probably the most important game I've ever watched," said Connor Riley, a 2021 graduate of UNC.

"I was watching the game? We're on mute …so I wasn't screaming to the very end, I was just intently watching the game," Sara Steele, Class of 1989, said.

"Well, let's put this way there. There isn't a lot. Think you get a 66-year-old man that excited?" said Tar Heel graduate of 1977 John Johnson.

It is rare in sports that a major event lives up to the hype. This one did. There were eighteen lead changes and twelve ties, drama when UNC’s star center Bacot twisted his ankle late in the game and anguished in pain.

Then with under a minute left sophomore guard Caleb Love drained the decisive three point shot and sent thousands of Tar Heels fans watching on big screens in the on campus arena in Chapel Hill into a state of pandemonium.

UNC defeated Duke 81-77. In the end, a bitter rival forced a foe of five decades, the legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski into retirement.

"Well, I guess it's terrible to say it, but I love it. How ironic how poetic," Johnson said.

"It was just joy. Yes. It was just joy. Yes, I was. You can't even put it into words the elation that I felt, and I and I'm sure all of Tar Heel nation fail, as well," Said Steele.

Coach K’s coronation was not to be. His career ends with 1200 wins, five national titles, and a bout of March Sadness that may persist in perpetuity.

“It’s a heckuva game, it was a heck of a game. And the team that won was going to be so happy, and the team that lost was going to be so sad – because both teams played their hearts out,” Krzyzewski said.

Now, Carolina turns its attention toward Kansas. There is plenty of history between these schools. In 1957, UNC defeated a Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas team in a triple overtime national championship classic. In 1991, a Roy Williams coached Kansas team beat the Tar Heels in the Final Four. Williams would later switch schools and lead UNC to three national titles. Playing for UNC 31 years ago was a junior named Hubert Davis. He’s now the first-year head coach at his alma mater.

And while the stakes couldn’t be higher, following the win over Duke it has the feel of an encore to John Johnson.

"I don't know but Monday night for a lot of us are going to be at an anti-climax I think," Johnson said.

Kansas enters tonight’s match-up in New Orleans as the favorite, hoping to claim its fourth national champion. UNC is aiming to win its seven NCAA tournament title.

Tip-off against Kansas is scheduled for 9:20 p.m.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Feature News Editor. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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