Nothing is given, but Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington all came back to North Carolina hoping to claim a college basketball national championship.
A lopsided defeat at the hands of Kansas in last season’s national semifinal was tough to swallow, and the trio vowed to help lead the Tar Heels to the school’s fifth title.
In short order, the year-long journey was worth it, as the joy on their faces after the Tar Heels’ 89-72 thrashing of Michigan State on April 6 was evident to everyone in the record crowd of 72,922 at Detroit’s Ford Field.
In the end, North Carolina was too deep, too talented, and too focused to let this opportunity slip away.
Hansbrough, a senior center, tallied 18 points, pulled down seven rebounds, and junior point guard Lawson added a game-best 21 points, along with six assists, and a record-setting eight steals.
Three-point sharp shooter Ellington scored 19 points, including 17 in the first half, and was perfect from the three-point line, sinking three.
The Tar Heels shot 45.9 percent from the floor (28 of 61), scored 55 first-half points, and led by 21. The latter two are new standards that aren’t likely to be approached soon.
Before the Spartans (31-7) could even build up a sweat, they trailed, 17-7, with less than five minutes having been played.
With 11:41 remaining on the clock, North Carolina bolted ahead, 24-11, and after a 14-7 blitz, the Tar Heels were leading, 38-18, and 7:33 left.
That sea of Spartan green-and-white looked forlorn and dejected, and even Michigan State alumnus Earvin “Magic” Johnson was realistic when interviewed at the intermission.
“North Carolina is the better team, and they’re playing like it,” he said. “When you turn the ball over like they have, it’s going to be hard to win.”
Johnson was in the Motor City, along with Larry Bird, to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic matchup in Salt Lake City. Johnson paced the Spartans to an 11-point victory in the title game over Bird and Indiana State, and it remains as the most-watched college basketball game, and continues to be a touchstone event.
North Carolina (34-4) was in command, 43-20, with 6:45 left, and continued its assault, pulling in front, 48-25, and 3:43 showing. At the 1:53 mark, Michigan State closed to within 49-30.
The Spartans struggled offensively, and seemed especially jittery during the first 10 minutes. There were too many dry periods and too many mistakes. Michigan State turned the ball over 21 times to seven for the Heels.
On the night, Michigan State converted 40 percent of its shots (22 of 55), and made 21 of 29 free throws, and drained seven of 23 from three-point range.
Michigan State center Goran Suton finished with 17 points, hit seven of 10 from the field, and three of four from distance. Suton also swiped a game-high 11 rebounds.
Point guard Kalin Lucas dropped in 14 points for the Spartans, and reserve forward Durrell Summers added 13 points and five boards.
Slightly more than five minutes into the second half, North Carolina led, 61-41, and were ahead 65-46 about three minutes later.
With 7:33 left on the clock, the Tar Heels were in front 72-53 before the Spartans closed to 80-65 and 3:51 showing.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.