- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009


The North Carolina basketball team ignored the sentimental story line and a stadium that was cloaked in the green and white of Michigan State.

The Tar Heels fashioned a compelling performance in overwhelming the Spartans 89-72 to claim the national championship at Ford Field on Monday night.

It was over in an instant, and it neutralized the 72,922 in attendance.

The Tar Heels succeeded as the favorite, not always an easy thing to do, as UNC coach Roy Williams said.

“All year, everyone anointed this team,” he said. “They played their tails off and had some bumps in the road. … I'm the luckiest coach in America.”

The Spartans ended the season with long faces after embracing the fairy-tale scenario on the first day of practice this season. They set their eyes on a grand finish in hard-luck Motown, about 90 miles east of their campus in East Lansing. Nine of the team´s 15 players come from Michigan and have friends and family members who have been laid off from their factory jobs in the automobile industry.

That was the team's cause, which Williams deflected.

“You know, if we´re playing against the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan, they would outnumber us,” Williams said. “We don´t have as good a chance at that one. … So if all the workers of America come down and start guarding my butt on the bench, then I´ll start being concerned about it.”

The Spartans could not be certain they would get here, especially early in the season, when they lost to both Maryland and UNC in lopsided fashion in a seven-day period.

The Tar Heels had a similar wake-up moment. They were considered almost unbeatable after going undefeated in the first two months of the season. They then lost their first two games in the ACC before making the proper corrections.

The Spartans could be forgiven for thinking it was somehow their moment because of the venue and their connection to the Magic Johnson-inspired national championship in 1979.

Johnson and Larry Bird made the game-ball presentation before the tipoff in celebration of the 30-year anniversary of the MSU-Indiana State classic.

It was the precursor to the tournament today. It was the game that turned the tournament into an event.

“The tournament has grown above and beyond anything I ever imagined it would be,” Bird said.

Even if it ended on an anticlimactic note this year.

The game was all but decided in the first 10 minutes, when the Tar Heels put on what amounted to a clinic. They hit perimeter shots. They controlled the three-second lane. They secured second shots. They fashioned the sort of scoring runs that deflate an opponent.

“They got to that 24-7 lead or whatever it was, and it kind of stayed that way the rest of the way,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “We just looked like a team that ran out of gas a little bit. … It was like a perfect storm. A lot of things went against us. I did see some deer-in-the-headlights looks, and unfortunately it was from our upperclassmen.”

This championship was all conceived in the weeks after the Tar Heels were embarrassed by Kansas in the Final Four last year.

Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Ty Lawson all elected to return to UNC to chase a national championship.

Hansbrough and Green were part of the recruiting class that landed in Chapel Hill following UNC´s national championship in 2005.

Hansbrough, who stayed all four years despite the guaranteed millions from the NBA, ended his college career just as he planned.

“This is the best way to go out,” he said. “I couldn´t picture it any other way.”

The Spartans could not slow down the Tar Heels, starting with Lawson, the premier point guard in college basketball. He had seven steals by halftime.

As efficient as the Tar Heels were, the Spartans were out of it, sloppy with the ball, in a hurry but going nowhere.

They were never a threat to the Tar Heels.

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