Isn’t this how the season was destined to end?
The North Carolina Tar Heels entered the 2008-09 season with a deep, talented, veteran lineup. Superstars Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson both rejected the allure of the NBA in order to return to Chapel Hill for one more shot at a national title.
Monday, in front of 72,922 rabid basketball fans—many of whom were rooting feverishly for the local heroes, the Michigan State Spartans—the Heels closed the deal with a convincing 89-72 victory.
The attendance figure shattered the previous record by more than 8,000.
Roy Williams and Co. entered the season to almost universal praise. Not only was UNC installed as the first-ever unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the country; there was also persistent talk of the first undefeated season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
Performing under the weight of such heady expectations, the Heels blitzed through their first 13 games, winning by an average score of 95-68, despite losing senior guard Marcus Ginyard to a broken foot after only three games.
Included in that stretch was a shattering 98-63 triumph over none other than Michigan State at Ford Field in Detroit...the very same venue for Monday’s romp.
After stumbling out of the gates in ACC play, losing their first two in league competition, the Heels had to endure injury worries—particularly a toe injury to all-world point guard Ty Lawson—and some indifferent play down the stretch.
With Lawson ailing but a No. 1 seed virtually assured, Williams sat his star guard in the ACC Tournament and the Heels fell to Florida State, 73-70, in the second round.
Both UNC and their star guard were limping into the NCAA Tournament.
The additional rest that Williams stole for Lawson allowed the junior’s toe injury to heal close to 100 percent. The Heels took off like a rocket, winning their first five tourney games by 43, 14, 21, 12, and 14 points.
UNC dominated this game from the very beginning, overwhelming MSU with their athleticism, offensive proficiency, and dominant defense.
The Heels were relentless early, scoring whenever, wherever, and however they wanted.
Wayne Ellington put on a breathtaking show in the first half of the contest, scoring 17 points on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc, 7-9 overall, staking UNC to a 55-34 bulge.
The Tar Heels led by as many as 24 points (46-22) during the first half, on the way to setting championship game records for most points in the first half (55) and largest halftime lead (21).
Lawson tied the Final Four record for steals in a single game with seven first half swipes.
Proud Michigan State refused to go quietly into the evening.
Tom Izzo’s valiant charges chipped gradually into the lead. First came a 7-2 spurt over a two minute stretch to cut the lead to 18, at 61-43.
A 10-4 run over a 2:36 stretch later in the second half slashed the lead all the way down to 13, 78-65. The pro-Michigan State crowd (though there was plenty of UNC powder blue to be found) roared its approval.
The Spartans would get no closer.
Ty Lawson drained 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch as the Heels beat back the determined rally from Michigan State. North Carolina was just too good on this night, as they were all tournament long.
In 240 minutes of NCAA Tournament play, UNC trailed for fewer than 10 minutes. In fact, the Tar Heels held double-digit leads for some 154 of those minutes—64 percent!
Some of the individual accolades were quite impressive, too.
The Carolina senior class (Mike Copeland, Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green, Hansbrough, J. B. Tanner, and Jack Wooten) set a school record for wins by four-year seniors (a staggering 125).
Green, a sixth-man for most of his career before becoming a starter as a senior, played more games than anyone else in UNC history (145).
Hansbrough climbed up to fourth place all-time in NCAA Tournament scoring with 325 on his way to 18 points on the night.
Lawson, voted as the CBS Most Valuable Player of the night for UNC, scored a team-high 21 with eight steals, a Final Four and championship game record.
Junior Ellington, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, tallied 19.
And Roy Williams, after so much heartbreak and so many close calls at Kansas, has come home to his alma mater and solidified his place in the all-time pantheon of NCAA coaches with his second title in just six years at North Carolina.
Ellington, Hansbrough, and Lawson were joined on the All-Tournament team by MSU’s Kalin Lucas and Goran Suton, who finished the night with a double-double, 17 points, and 11 rebounds.
North Carolina finished the year at 34-4, while Michigan State slipped to 31-7.