A career day from Joshua Langford lifted Michigan State to a championship in the PK80 Phil Knight Invitational victory bracket.
The sophomore guard scored 23 points in a defensive battle to lead the No. 4 Spartans to a 63-45 win over No. 9 North Carolina on Sunday night at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.
It not only was the first loss of the year for the Tar Heels, but it also snaps the defending champions' 11-game winning streak dating back to last season. Michigan State moves to 5-1 on the season with the only loss coming to No. 1 Duke.
North Carolina had earned big wins over Portland and Arkansas, while Michigan State easily disposed of DePaul and Connecticut in the first two rounds of this event.
The championship game was supposed to be much closer with two AP Top 10 teamsbattling each other, but it was just as one-sided as the rest of the week.
UNC simply couldn't get anything going offensively as the team finished at just 24.6 percent shooting, including 1-of-18 from three-point range. Luke Maye and Joel Berry II averaged a combined 38.2 points per game entering the day but managed just 15 combined points on 5-of-24 from the field.
Jon Rothstein and Matt Norlander of CBS Sports put the struggles in perspective:
Only Theo Pinson (16 points) showed any life offensively for the Tar Heels.
Michigan State flexed its defensive muscle from the opening tip, shutting down both the freshmen and experienced players in the UNC lineup:
The Spartans went up 25-13 in the first 13 minutes and ended the first half leading 37-23. The Tar Heels committed 11 turnovers before intermission, shooting 23.3 percent from the field. The only made three-pointer came on a buzzer-beater from Berry.
ESPN's Jemele Hill described the effort:
On the other end of the court, Langford shot lights out with 14 points in the first half, while Cassius Winston led the way with five assists. Although the frontcourt gets the majority of headlines on this team, it was the backcourt that helped create the early lead, as Brendan F. Quinn of The Athletic described:
The quality performance continued into the second half as the Spartans extended the margin to as big as 21 and never let the game get within single digits after halftime.
Miles Bridges had an uncharacteristically quiet night with 11 points, although he and Nick Ward helped out in other ways. Bridges had two steals, while Ward added four blocks. The frontcourt helped the Spartans outrebound North Carolina 52-36.
Perhaps the only complaint on either end was the 24 turnovers committed by the Spartans.
While these mistakes helped the Tar Heels to not get blown out, the final was never in doubt as it became an easy win for the No. 4 team in the country.
ESPN Stats and Info noted how this differed from Tom Izzo's prior performances:
Both teams will now turn their attention to the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. North Carolina should be able to get a win at home against Michigan, while Michigan State could have a tough battle against No. 13 Notre Dame.