Fast start carries Carolina to title
DETROIT - It was over by the second jump ball. Michigan State's Delvon Roe and North Carolina's Deon Thompson had jumped the traditional big man-on-big man tip Monday, but Spartans guard Travis Walton and Tar Heels center Tyler Hansbrough fell to the floor wrestling for the ball three seconds later. With no possession gained to set the possession arrow, officials put the pair in the center circle. The 6-foot-2 Walton stared straight up to meet the 6-9 Hansbrough's gaze.
Like Walton in that tip-off, the Spartans never stood a chance.
Playing in front of the largest crowd to watch an NCAA tournament final (72,922), North Carolina crushed Michigan State, 89-72, to win the fifth national title in school history and the second in five seasons (
The crowd -- about 80 percent Michigan State fans -- never bothered the Tar Heels. In fact, they considered the thumping a thank-you for some of the hospitality they received. "We were driving around Michigan, and we saw some fans. We were waving, saying 'Hey.' They were sticking up middle fingers at us. Crazy stuff," point guard Ty Lawson said. "It felt real good to have them all silent."
Lawson, Hansbrough, guard Danny Green and guard Wayne Ellington probably could have left for the NBA after last season. Instead, they chose to stay and chase a title, knowing their quest probably would cost them individual glory. "We didn't come back for no reason," Green said. "We came back to accomplish this."
The Tar Heels hit a few bumps during the season, but they barely broke a sweat in the NCAA tournament. Their six wins came by an average of 19.5 points. Monday's win provided the exclamation point for the career of Hansbrough, the leading scorer in Atlantic Coast Conference history and the 2007-08 national player of the year. Coming into this season, Hansbrough had all the credentials to stand beside Carolina legends such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Eric Montross -- except for the national title. Now he has one. "I'm glad I stayed," Hansbrough said. "This is a dream come true."
Hansbrough finished Monday with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Lawson scored a game-high 21, and Ellington, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, scored 19. The Tar Heels forced 21 turnovers and committed only seven. Center Goran Suton led Michigan State with 17 points.
"The best team won," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "That's an easy statement to make."
The title is extra special for Carolina coach Roy Williams. He won his first championship in 2005 coaching players recruited mostly by his predecessor, Matt Doherty. After losing most of those players to the NBA, Williams built the 2005-06 team around incoming freshman Hansbrough. The following season, Williams added Lawson, Ellington and Thompson. Green, Hansbrough's 2005 classmate, rounded out a starting five that reached the Final Four in 2008, only to get demolished by Kansas in the national semifinal.
The Tar Heels swore they wouldn't repeat that failure this season. With an eye toward the Final Four, Williams scheduled a game against Michigan State at Ford Field on Dec. 3. North Carolina won that game by 35, but Monday was supposed to be different. The Spartans, worn down by a hectic schedule, didn't have their legs for the first meeting. They played without Suton, who discovered that day he had torn cartilage in one knee. They hadn't jelled into the squad that dominated a pair of No. 1 seeds (Louisville and Connecticut) to reach the title game.
The Tar Heels blasted out of the chute, hitting six of their first seven shots. Lawson had seven first-half steals, and Ellington scored 17 on 7-of-9 shooting as North Carolina built a championship-game record 21-point halftime lead. As the teams returned to the floor for the second half, Michigan State players trudged down a hallway toward the court. The Tar Heels followed about 50 feet behind, clapping and barking in unison.
With 7:33 remaining, the Spartans finally equaled North Carolina's halftime score. Michigan State would cut North Carolina's lead to 13, but the Spartans wouldn't get any closer. With 1:03 remaining, Williams sent in his walk-ons. Hansbrough walked off the court and into the arms of his coach.
The confetti fell a few minutes later.
Tuesday, the Tar Heels will return to Chapel Hill. Hansbrough will put aside the weights and celebrate for a few days. So will Green. Lawson and Ellington will decide whether they want to return. Meanwhile, Williams will hit the road to hunt for the players that can get him back to where he was Monday night.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Williams said. "I was standing down on the court in '05, when we won the thing. We celebrated quite a bit Monday night, didn't go to bed, got back Tuesday and had a great celebration on campus. I left on Wednesday morning to go recruiting at 6 a.m. My rear-end's going somewhere either Wednesday or Thursday, because I enjoy this feeling."