North Carolina’s cast of future NBA players overwhelmed Michigan State 89-72 in the final of the NCAA Tournament on Monday, giving the Tar Heels their fifth national championship and first since 2005.
North Carolina (34-4) raced to a 34-11 lead in the first 10 minutes, silencing many of the 73,000 in Ford Field that had been pleading for the home-state Spartans to make a run.
“We got off to a start where we looked a little bit either shell-shocked or a little bit worn down,” conceded Spartans coach Tom Izzo. “You can’t do that against a good team.”
Wayne Ellington, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, had 17 of his 19 points by halftime when the Tar Heels held a commanding 55-34 lead.
“We came out strong,” said the Tar Heels’ Tyler Hansbrough. “We knew there was going to be a big crowd there for them and we wanted to take them out of it early.”
Michigan State (31-7), who never cut the lead below 13 after halftime, were paced in scoring by Goran Suton, who had 17 points on seven-of-10 shooting.
The decision by North Carolina’s Ellington, Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Danny Green not to turn professional after last year’s semi-final loss to Kansas paid off.
Hansbrough decision to turn his back on the NBA’s riches left him an unpaid-student athlete instead of a highly-paid professional player for another year, but he said it was a small price to pay after Monday’s victory.
“I’m glad I stayed, this is a dream come true,” Hansbrough told reporters.
Talk of Hansbrough being the no. 1 NBA pick has been replaced by debate about whether the ultra-competitive forward will even be a top 15 selection in June’s draft.
But he insisted he had never had a second thought about his decision to return.
“A lot of people doubted me this year but looking back on things, people can say whatever they want because now I’m part of something special that most people will never get to experience,” Hansbrough said.
“We didn’t win last year but we got it done this year and look where we are right now,” he said.
“That is the best decision I ever made in my life [to come back],” Ellington said. “To experience this with my teammates and to be here, national champions, it is all worth it.”
Hansbrough may ultimately end up paying the steepest price for the national title he coveted.
The best player in US college basketball a year ago, according to many scouts he was not even the best player on his own team this season.
But Hall of Famer Magic Johnson said Hansbrough’s decision to return is one he will never regret.
The former NBA great, who led Michigan to the 1979 NCAA title, counts it as his top basketball memory ahead of Olympic gold medals and championship rings.
“The NCAA championship is still the most special,” Johnson said.
“We were innocent kids back then. That’s what makes the NCAA tournament, March Madness, so special,” he said.
“I’m so proud of this team,” said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. “People anointed us before the year that you were going to go undefeated, which I thought was silly at the time.”
“Then we lost two games and everybody jumped off the ship,” he said.
The victory put an exclamation point on a stunning tournament streak by the Tar Heels, who won each of their six games by a double-digit margin.
“Every time we made a decent run, our crowd got into it, they gave the ball to Lawson or Hansbrough and they made a great play,” Spartans guard Travis Walton said. “That’s why they won the national championship, because they are a great team and they can stop your runs.”