The Long Road To The Championship

TOsports.caCorrespondent IApril 8, 2009

DETROIT - APRIL 06:  A cheerleader for the North Carolina Tar Heels performs against the Michigan State Spartans during the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Ford Field on April 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Three weeks of spectacular March Madness came to a close as the Michigan State Spartans and North Carolina Tar Heels faced off in Detroit at Ford Field to battle for the NCAA National Championship. 

With a record breaking 72,922 spectators in attendance, a sea of green profoundly engulfed the football stadium to root for the unlikely contender Michigan State. However their excitement would not last very long as the home team cheers were quickly silenced with powder blues when Carolina raced out to a 22-7 lead in what seemed like a New York minute, never looking back.

Led by the Final Four MVP Wayne Ellington, Carolina’s two-guard dropped 17 points on the Spartans in the first half and point guard Ty Lawson’s seven first half steals (tying the NCAA record which he would break in the second half), the Tar Heels showed why they were preseason favorites to win the national championship.

Despite momentary offensive sparks from Kalin Lucas and timely three pointers from freshman Korie Lucious and the Croatian big man Goran Suton, the all around dominance of Tar Heels proved to be too much for The Spartans to overcome.  Prior to the game, coach Tom Izzo told the media that his team would have to be perfect to contest with North Carolina’s potent offence. 

Unfortunately, Michigan State’s start seemed barely competitive as Spartan shooter Chris Allen went 0 for 15, while the rest of the team collectively shot 40 percent from the field and went 7-23 from behind the arc.

In almost a revolving door fashion, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams seemed to have an endless roster of scorers substituting onto the court.  Spreading the floor and dispersing the ball to unlikely heroes, North Carolina was able to get key contributions from big men like Deon Thompson, freshman Ed Davis and got two clutch three pointers from Danny Green when the Spartans attempted to shadow the Tar Heels big three (Tyler Hansbrough, Lawson, and Ellington).

Heading into the locker room at half Carolina had forced 13 turnovers and as a team had broken two NCAA finals records, scoring a tournament high 55-points, while accumulating an assertive 21-point lead.

Even more surprising than The Tar Heels explosive offence was the team’s lockdown defence.  With a series of presses, man-to-man coverage and zone executions, the players shifted and collapsed on Michigan State, limiting the team to only six points in the paint. Carolina’s ability to surround the interior pushed The Spartans beyond the arch with a series of forced three point attempts and bad looks at the net.

As a result of the total control in the first half, Izzo’s players seemed mentally drained as they were unable to claw their way back into contention.  Even with Carolina’s momentary lapse with an offensive draught, and not even with a revitalized sense of energy from the Spartan’s was Michigan State able to find the basket.

At the peak of the second half, The Spartans had only been able to bring the game within 13-points of the lead and allowed North Carolina to walk away with the win, and coveted title of national champions.

The victory proved to be somewhat bittersweet for the Tar Heels heart and soul senior Tyler Hansbrough, who opted not to enter last years NBA draft and passed up on millions of dollars and a first round selection in order to return to college for one more shot at the title—the only thing missing from literally his infinite list of records, awards, and achievements (far too many to single out or list). 

Hansbrough, whose early tournament contributions seemed to go virtually unnoticed stepped his game up a notch as his school pressed onto the Final Four.  In true Tyler Hansbrough form, the 6’9 forward from Poplar Bluff Missouri recorded 18-points in each of his last two collegiate games and added 18 rebounds to cap off what could possibly be the greatest NCAA career of all time.

Upon graduation, it is certain Hansbrough’s number 50 jersey will be retired and hoisted into the rafters of the Dean Dome along with George Glamack, Lennie Rosenbluth, James Worthy, Antawn Jamison, Phil Ford, and his airness Michael Jordan.

There are many critics who are uncertain that the only four-time All-American player in collegiate history will not transfer his style of play into the pros.  However, there is one thing that is certain, he and everyone on this year’s Tar Heels team will always be Champions.

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