DETROIT (AP)—Tyler Hansbrough grabbed the T-shirt, the one that said “National Champions,” with as much authority as any rebound that had ever come his way.
Some teams win championships by catching fire during a magic spell in March.
Others win them simply because they’re better than everyone else. North Carolina was that kind of team.
Hansbrough and the Tar Heels stomped out Michigan State’s inspirational run with an 89-72 blowout Monday night in an NCAA title game that wasn’t really that close.
“This is the best way to go out. I couldn’t picture it any other way,” Hansbrough said, choking up, a few minutes after he rushed to grab that first hot-off-the-iron T-shirt.
He scored 18 points, Wayne Ellington had 19 and Ty Lawson finished with 21 points and a record eight steals. Now, they and Danny Green can all head to the NBA feeling good about their decision to return to school. They’re bringing home Carolina’s fifth championship, and the second for coach Roy Williams.
Hansbrough, the player of the year last season, never thought twice about returning for his senior year. Ellington, Lawson and Danny Green tested the NBA waters but didn’t like what they found. They all came back, none of them wanting their college careers to end on the dud of a game in last year’s Final Four when they found themselves down 40-12 to Kansas and even Billy Packer was telling the folks it was over.
North Carolina led 40-20 at one point in this one. The rest was about deciding the order for cutting down the nets, and taking bets on who would cry and who wouldn’t.
Hansbrough did. Ellington too. Williams? Of course he did.
“My hat’s off to these three guys here and the guys in the locker room,” Williams said. “Because they took Roy Williams on one fantastic ride, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Michigan State (31-7) would like to.
The Spartans never had a chance. They had been on an uplifting run, and the final chapter was supposed to be the national championship. It would, the storybook said, bring the definitive ray of sunshine to a city and state that’s been battered by an ailing economy.
Instead, the 90-mile ride home to East Lansing will be a quiet one.
“I think if we played as well as we did the last couple games, at least it’s a game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “The only thing I feel bad for is that it was the biggest crowd to ever see a college basketball game and it wasn’t much of a game.”
The crowd of 72,922 at Ford Field, most wearing Michigan State colors, watched the Tar Heels (34-4) go up 55-34 at halftime, breaking a 42-year-old title-game record for biggest lead at the break and setting the mark for most points at the half.
It was, almost literally, over before it began.
Ellington had a double-pump scoop layup and a 3-pointer and Hansbrough spotted up and sank a 14-foot jumper—all in the first 4:25 to put Carolina ahead 17-7. It never got closer.
The Spartans, meanwhile, were having trouble simply getting the ball in after Tar Heel buckets, turning it over that way twice in the first 6 minutes, part of a depressing day that didn’t do justice to the effort they put in to get here.
“I just don’t think we did the things we did all year,” Izzo said. “When you say that, you take away some credit from North Carolina, and I don’t want to do that. It was a combination of us and them, but we need to take some of the blame.”
Izzo tried to call a timeout to stop the onslaught with 6:45 left in the first half. His team came out and promptly turned it over—one of 14 in the first half, compared to only 12 baskets.
Goran Suton led the Spartans with 17 points, and Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, had 14.
Michigan State pulled within 13 a couple times late in the second half, and the crowd tried to make some noise.
But for most of the game, cavernous Ford Field had the atmosphere of a Lions game—the 0-16 Lions—save the few thousand Tar Heel fans whose Carolina Blue team put in a much better blue-collar effort than the team that prided itself on that.
Izzo conceded in the lead-up to the game that if both teams played their best, Michigan State would lose.
“The best team won,” Izzo said. “That’s an easy statement to make.”
Indeed, this collection of NBA talent was too, too much from wire to wire, from the start of the tournament, to the very end.
Carolina won every game by double digits, something that hasn’t happened since Duke did it in 2001.
Lots of basketball fans saw this coming, including America’s No. 1 Hoopster-in-Chief.
Yes, President Barack Obama picked the Tar Heels to take it all in his much-publicized bracket.
“You’ve got six NBA players that could be drafted in the first round or early second,” Spartans guard Travis Walton said. “You’re looking at a team that could probably beat the worst team in the NBA.”
Magic Johnson, Michigan State’s Spartan-in-Chief, joined Larry Bird at center court to present the game ball, a tribute to the 30-year anniversary of their historic matchup and Michigan State’s first title.
From there, it was pretty much all “Showtime,” all the time—but not for Michigan State. Heck, Magic didn’t even stick around for the end. He was spotted walking up the tunnel with 3 1/2 minutes left.
Carolina was starting to empty the bench by then.
Williams joined Jim Calhoun, Billy Donovan and Mike Krzyzewski as the fourth active coach (13th overall) to win multiple titles.
This title came four years after his first championship—and for the first time, with a roster full of his own recruits.
“Roy Williams is not that good,” Williams said. “But boy, ol’ Roy’s got some big-time players. That’s what it takes.”
Overall, North Carolina dominated every matchup on the floor in pretty much every way. The Tar Heels were a unanimous No. 1 in the preseason and became the first UNC team to start and finish at No. 1 since 1982.
Michael Jordan was the star of that team.
Hansbrough was the star of this one: Someone who will go down as a great college player—and a champion—no matter what the NBA might bring.
“It’s not war, it’s not the economy or anything, but I desperately wanted this championship for that young man,” Williams said. “I know that’s corny, but that’s who I am.”