April 6, 2009
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DETROIT (AP) -- No team had ever left the court at halftime of a championship game in better shape than North Carolina did Monday night.
The second half couldn't have been as spectacular as the first for Ty Lawson and the Tar Heels, and it wasn't.
No matter, it was good enough for an 89-72 victory over Michigan State, capping a season during which North Carolina went from the first-ever unanimous preseason No. 1 to its fifth national title.
The Spartans had seen North Carolina play this well before--a 98-63 romp on the same court at Ford Field in December. They couldn't have imagined a start like this.
The Tar Heels hit six of their first seven shots, forced three turnovers and took a 17-7 lead less than 5 minutes into the game
Even when they missed three shots on their next three possessions, they crashed the boards and came up with two baskets, not an easy feat against the best rebounding team in the country. The lead was 22-7 and there were still nearly 14 minutes left in the first half.
Michigan State couldn't do anything right and North Carolina kept rolling in a record-breaking first half.
The score was 55-34--the most points a team had ever scored in the first half of a championship game. It was also the biggest lead after 20 minutes.
"The first 10 minutes, we wanted to come out strong," Lawson said. "We learned from past experience it's important in the game. So we came out strong. We was knocking down big shots, playing defense real well. That's what we wanted to do."
The Tar Heels shot 52.9 percent (18-for-34) from the field and were just one rebound behind the Spartans' 17. Michigan State committed 14 turnovers in the half, just over the 13.8 they averaged per game this season, and seven were on steals by Lawson, matching the championship-game record in one half.
"My mind-set basically was I wanted to slow down Kalin Lucas because he's the heart and soul of their team," Lawson said. "Basically I was trying to knock down passing lanes, make it hard for him, make him do things he didn't want to do. That was my main focus. My shot wasn't falling, too, so I decided to spend more energy on the defensive end and it helped out a lot."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said mistakes were the "big key."
"To have 14 turnovers in the first half on a team that doesn't really press, that hurt us a little bit," he said.
Spartans guard Travis Walton said the bad start finished them.
"That first five minutes of the game, we couldn't stop it," he said. "When we did try to stop it, we had good looks, we didn't make the shots. And they kept pushing and pushing at us. They was getting to the free throw line and we were turning the ball over."
Michigan State cut down on the turnovers and did a better job of rebounding in the second half, outscoring the Tar Heels 38-34. But North Carolina did what it needed to do to keep the Spartans at bay. Michigan State closed within 13 points twice, the last time at 78-65 with 4:46 to go.
But Lawson scored the first four points of a 6-0 run by North Carolina, a burst that saw the Spartans turn it over two more times.
"When we cut it down to 13, 14, we had some chances. It just wasn't our night, to be honest with you," Izzo said. "And we played a damn good team."
North Carolina wound up matching its season average for points, an impressive effort against a team that allowed only 63 points per game.
"You know to me the key to the game was going to be the defensive end of the floor," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "If we could keep them off the backboards, because they destroy people rebounding-wise, and if we could get some turnovers, we decided not to press. We didn't press full court a single possession tonight. But we wanted to get some turnovers and give them one bad shot."
The numbers belonged to North Carolina all game, and they added up to a fifth title.