Tar Heels seize control from start

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

North Carolina wasted little time in building a big lead.

DETROIT -- Forget 40 minutes. North Carolina didn't even need 40 seconds.

Rebound, rebound, putback. Strip, rebound, putback.

Game.

Those two possessions, lasting all of 33 seconds early in the first half, put the Tar Heels in control and Michigan State never recovered. The Spartans managed to rally in the second half -- or as much a rally as it can be when it cuts the deficit to 13 -- but that early display removed any doubt that North Carolina really is the best team in the country.

Speed, power, athleticism, depth -- the Tar Heels had it all. And now they have a fifth NCAA title, their second in five years, after a 89-72 thrashing of Michigan State on Monday night.

Ty Lawson had his usual all-around excellence, scoring a game-high 21 points and adding a record eight steals and six assists. Tyler Hansbrough closed out his college career with 18 points and seven rebounds. Wayne Ellington, the most outstanding player of the tournament, added 19.

But the Tar Heels (34-4) got plenty of other contributions. Freshman Ed Davis finished with 11 points, only his eighth double-figure performance of the season. Deon Thompson finished with nine points -- all in the first half.

North Carolina embarrassed the Spartans on the same floor in December, a 35-point victory that was Michigan State's most lopsided loss since 1996, Tom Izzo's first year as a coach. This game was supposed to be different. Not only did the Spartans have big man Goran Suton back, but they were a different team than they were even three weeks ago.

They bulldozed overall No. 1 Louisville in the Midwest Regional final, running at the Cardinals from the opening tip. They did the same thing to another top seed, Connecticut, in the Final Four on Saturday night. They were fierce, physical and utterly relentless, never giving either opponent a chance to find any kind of groove.

Now they know how the Cardinals and Huskies feel.

Only five minutes into the game, Kalin Lucas sprinted for a fast-break layup that would have pulled the Spartans within single digits and might have given them some momentum. But he missed, and Ed Davis came up with the rebound. Davis dished off to Lawson and, when Lawson missed a jumper, was right there again to collect the rebound and score on the putback.

There was a Tar Heel or two who hadn't even gotten across midcourt when Lawson stripped Draymond Green. Bobby Frasor missed a 3, but Ellington grabbed the ball and scored on a layup.

With 14:26 still to play in the first half, North Carolina had a 14-point lead and the game was as good as over.

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