Talk of going undefeated didn’t come in whispers. The predictions were published in bold type with headlines that screamed this team eventually might be remembered among the best of all time. And on Dec. 3, right here at Ford Field, the dream of an undefeated season gained even more momentum when the Tar Heels crushed Michigan State 98-63 in an ordinary regular season game.
Monday night, back in Motown and playing that same group of Spartans, the Tar Heels cut down the nets as national championships, snipping away to the strains of the North Carolina pep band playing “Carolina In My Mind.”
The Tar Heels (34-4) didn’t celebrate the perfect season, but tears did fall after one of the most dominating exhibitions in championship game history. If they were on a mission to prove they were special, consider it mission accomplished.
“The first one was unbelievably sweet in 2005, but in some ways this one is even sweeter,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said the 89-72 victory. “People anointed us before the year that we were going to go undefeated, which I thought was silly at the time.
“Then we lost two games and everybody jumped off the ship. But the kids believed in 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.”
It had to be pretty satisfying for Williams to watch his team execute in the first half Monday night. Five minutes into the game, North Carolina led by 10. Midway through the first half, the lead was 21. The Tar Heels shot 53 percent and set a title game record with 55 points in the first half. Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough combined for 28 of those points. Point guard Ty Lawson had seven steals by halftime and walked away with a title-game record of eight.
The Tar Heels were greeted by boos during lineup introductions as the championship game record crowd of 72,922 marked its territory. The Sparty Party that had been gathering steam all weekend was supposed to favor Michigan State. But the Tar Heels never allowed the crowd to become a factor.
North Carolina's closest game in the tournament was decided by 12 points. The Tar Heels became the first champion to win every tournament game by double-digit margins since Duke in 2001.
Michigan State guard Travis Walton called the first five minutes “a blur.” The Spartans had four turnovers by that time and were on their way to 21 for the game.
“It seemed like everything they threw up went in,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “There were some things I did not think we handled very well either. It was like a perfect storm.”
It’s important to remember this was a very good Michigan State team. A victory Monday night would have given the Spartans (31-7) three consecutive wins over No. 1 seeds. Michigan State was playing its best basketball of the season and confidence was high.
“I mean they’re not exactly Charlie’s doughnut team,” Williams had said Sunday.
That’s absolutely true. But North Carolina, which won its fifth national championship overall and the second in five years under Williams, was simply at another level — above everyone else and pretty much the team everyone expected to watch when the season began.
“They have no weakness,” Walton said. “Last year, Tyler Hansbrough was the national player of the year. But now they are saying Ty Lawson is the best player on the team. Then you’ve got Wayne Ellington. ... ”
Walton went on and on, dissecting the roster.
“You’re looking at a NBA kind of team that can beat the worst team in the NBA probably. They’re just a great team,” Walton said.
Once again, the Tar Heels opened the game on fire offensively. Led by Deon Thompson and Ellington, North Carolina hit six of its first seven shots while opening up a 17-7 lead.
Ellington, named Most Outstanding Player, entered the game shooting 54.7 percent in his last nine games. In his career, the Tar Heels are now 49-0 when the junior guard makes at least half his shots in a game. Ellington scored 17 of North Carolina’s 55 first half points and was a remarkable 7-for-9 from the field. He finished 7-for-12 with 19 points.
“I was talking a little trash to Ty Walton before the game,” Ellington said. “He was telling me he was going to shut me down. I just took on the challenge. He was in my face. I just saw a pretty big basket in the first half.”
The Spartans had executed so well in earlier tournament victories over Kansas, Louisville and Connecticut, but they were rattled into 14 first-half turnovers by North Carolina’s attack-mode defense. The Tar Heels converted those mistakes into 17 points.
“Sometimes it takes longer for certain teams to buy into it. But I think this team has bought into it so much more down the stretch this year.”
Williams, already a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, becomes just the ninth coach to win two NCAA titles. The only coaches with more championship rings are John Wooden of UCLA (10), Adolph Rupp of Kentucky (4), Bob Knight of Indiana (3) and Mike Krzyzewski (3). Williams, Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun of UConn, and Billy Donovan of Florida are the only active coaches with multiple championships.
Among the others with two titles is his mentor, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
“Roy Williams and Dean Smith don’t fit in the same sentence,” Williams said. “I’m not being humble. I really believe that.”
Williams was asked Sunday what the most difficult part of the season had been.
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