Monday began with the confirmation of Tar Heel Michael Jordan being elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and it ended with celebrations on Franklin Street as the Heels won their fifth national title by a final score of 89-72. Ty Lawson ran the show at the point and set a championship game record with eight steals, and fellow guard Wayne Ellington (19 points) was named Most Outstanding Player. Tyler Hansbrough (18 points, 7 rebounds) played well inside, as did freshman Ed Davis coming off the bench for eleven points and eight boards.
North Carolina jumped on the Spartans from the start, combining their efficient offense with solid defense to lead 22-7 with just over six minutes off the clock. Michigan State didn't help their cause at all, turning the ball over at a dizzying rate on their way to twenty-one turnovers. Pregame talk focused on the Spartans making sure that their turnovers were of the "dead ball" variety so an explosive guard like Lawson wouldn't get free runs at them. Live ball or dead, when you end up with a turnover margin of minus-14 (outscored 25-6 in points off turnovers) you're not going to win.
"But the turnovers were the big key," said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. "To have 14 turnovers in the first half on a team that doesn't really press hurt us a little bit." The Spartans were led by senior center Goran Suton, who finished with seventeen points and eleven rebounds. Of the Michigan State players who saw double digit minutes on Monday, Chris Allen (one assists, zero turnovers) and Kalin Lucas (seven assists, six turnovers) were the only players to finish with more assists than turnovers. Michigan State simply became the latest team to find out such miscues against the Tar Heels are fatal.
Roy Williams' team went full circle from a season ago, eventually leading 32-11 at the ten minute mark after trailing Kansas in last year's national semifinal 40-12. The goal was to take the pro-Michigan State crowd out of the game early; mission accomplished. "We came out strong; we wanted to get going from the gates," said Hansbrough. "We knew there was going to be a big crowd there for them [and] we kind of wanted to take them out of it early." To this Lawson added that "we learned from past experience it's important in the game" to get out to fast starts, and you can't help but think about San Antonio a year ago.
North Carolina won their six games by a combined margin of 121 points, the second-highest number in the 64/65-team era of the NCAA Tournament. Only Kentucky in 1996 (+129) had a higher point differential for a national champion, and of the 240 minutes the Tar Heels played they led by at least ten points in 154 of them. Not just lead, but to do so in dominant fashion confirmed the praise heaped upon this team before practice began in October. And despite a couple of bumps in the road North Carolina confirmed those expectations and won their fifth national title.
G Wayne Ellington (North Carolina) *named Most Outstanding Player
G Ty Lawson (North Carolina)
G Kalin Lucas (Michigan State)
F Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)
C Goran Suton (Michigan State)
Player of the Game: Ty Lawson (his speed was evident in the record eight steals as well as getting to the foul line enough to attempt eighteen free throws)
Team of the Night: North Carolina
Unsung Hero: North Carolina freshman forward Ed Davis, who tallied eleven points an eight rebounds. Davis came off the bench and grabbed just about every offensive rebound during the opening onslaught that essentially put the game away.
Quote of the Night: "People anointed us before the year that you were going to go undefeated, which I thought was silly at the time. Then we lost two games and everybody jumped off the ship. The kids believed us in the locker room at Wake Forest when we told them we were going to be there at the end. That's about the most satisfying feeling I've ever had as a coach." - North Carolina head coach Roy Williams