Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sleeping Spartans couldn't topple Tar Heels

December 4, 2008

Alex Altman

Detroit — They scrapped and they clawed, they punched and they kicked and somehow, someway, the MSU men’s basketball team cut North Carolina’s lead to four.

The fans were buzzing, the stadium was rocking, and the big vein in ESPN announcer Dick Vitale’s forehead appeared to be pulsating. It looked as if the momentum had shifted to the Spartans’ end of the court.

And then, the angry blue monster woke up from its nap.

North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough nailed a jumper. Guard Ty Lawson followed with a 3-pointer. Forward Wayne Ellington rocked the rim with a two-handed jam. Suddenly, it was the Spartans who looked like they were napping. Problem was, they never woke up.

North Carolina would go on to extend its lead to 14 points by the end of the half. The final score, 98-63, was far worse.

The Spartans shot a season-low 34.8 percent from the field, committed a season-high 22 turnovers, and lost the battle on the boards, which MSU head coach Tom Izzo stressed would be one of the keys to victory, 46-40.

Only two Spartans — junior Raymar Morgan (21 points) and sophomore Chris Allen (16 points) — finished in double figures. The next highest scorer, sophomore Durrell Summers, finished with a whopping eight.

“They just have so many weapons, inside and outside,” Morgan said. “They have shooters, they have a great point guard that leads their team in pushing the ball. They probably could be one of the best teams I’ve ever played against.”

It’s hard to blame the Spartans for failing to slay this basketball Goliath. MSU is a college basketball team. North Carolina is minor league NBA team.

The Tar Heels have at least four players who will be in the NBA next season: Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington and forward Danny Green. Those same players could just as easily have made the jump to the pros last season.

Instead, they decided to stick around another year and compete for the National Championship that has eluded them the past three seasons. If Wednesday’s game is any indication, winning that prize shouldn’t be a problem.

In fact, a National Championship is the least of feats the Tar Heels could accomplish this season. From what I saw, this team might not lose a single game.

Speed, strength, depth, coaching — you need it, this team has got it.

“We’re definitely the most talented team (that I’ve ever been on),” Ellington said. “We have a chance to do something really special.”

The Tar Heels are averaging 97 points per game, and they’re allowing just 66. After Wednesday’s massacre, they’re beating opponents by an average of 30 points per game.

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said he was uncomfortable with the environment at Ford Field, where the court was perched up roughly three feet from the floor. He better get used to it, because it seems inevitable he’ll be back there for the Final Four.

“That’s probably why the game was scheduled here,” Lawson said. “So we could get a feel for the court and things like that.”

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