By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
DETROIT, April 6 -- Spurred by an urge that was difficult to shake, Michigan State center Goran Suton inbounded the ball as soon as the ball fell through the net and bounced off the floor. His target, though, wasn't ready, and so the ball fell through the same net once again moments later.
This, the Spartans quickly rediscovered, is the mesmerizing trance in which North Carolina strangles its opponents. Michigan State witnessed how rapidly and efficiently the Tar Heels flowed up the court and thought it could keep pace.
Instead, the Spartans offered North Carolina a bevy of turnovers, and thus, the Tar Heels' most prized commodity: additional offensive possessions. North Carolina turned 14 first-half turnovers by Michigan State into 17 points and swiftly constructed a double-digit lead.
The Tar Heels won their second national title in five years Monday night at Ford Field with an 89-72 victory, though they secured the outcome long before the final buzzer sounded because of an instinct Michigan State could not ignore.
Just more than three minutes into the game, North Carolina guard Ty Lawson scored on a possession that left plenty of time remaining on the shot clock. Suton gathered the ball and shoved it near instantaneously in the direction of Michigan State point guard Kalin Lucas.
Lucas, however, had barely turned around to look for the inbound pass and still was blanketed by Lawson and North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough. Lucas lunged for the ball, stumbled and fell to the floor. Meantime, Lawson corralled the loose ball and zipped it to forward Deon Thompson, who subsequently was fouled during a shot attempt.
"That's what I had to do tonight for us to be successful," said Lawson, who tied a championship game record with eight steals.
Thompson's two free throws pushed the Tar Heels lead to seven, but similar sequences would play out the rest of the night.
That North Carolina would build a cushy lead early on, even in the national title game, was not overly surprising. After all, the Tar Heels' starting lineup consists of four dynamic scorers, any of whom can score in flurries on a given night.
That North Carolina would throttle an opponent thanks, in large part, to its defense was more jarring. In the first half Monday night, North Carolina displayed a recent development. The Tar Heels adamantly executed their half-court press and lingered longer after made baskets.
"We looked a little shell-shocked and got a little worn down," Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. "And you can't do that against a good team."
The Spartans' sizeable deficit only fed their impulse to hurry the ball up the court. Just more than five minutes into the second half, reserve guard Chris Allen grabbed a defensive rebound, turned and released the ball toward Lucas.
Yet again, there was Lawson. Steal. Pass. Basket. Again.
"They want to run, and we saw that on tape," Tar Heels guard Bobby Frasor said. "And they tried and we could see them getting tired. . . . I think it's kind of demoralizing when we score a basket and then -- boom -- right back at ya."