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Walton's defense wasn't enough to slow sharpshooting Ellington

April 7, 2009

Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas and sophomore guard Chris Allen react to a call made by the officials during the 2009 NCAA men’s championship basketball game Monday evening at Ford Field in Detroit.

Detroit — Before the start of Monday’s game, North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington said he and MSU senior guard Travis Walton were immersed in some friendly trash talk.

As soon as the ball was tipped, Ellington was anything but friendly. The junior guard scored 19 points against the Spartans, helping North Carolina claim the national championship with a 89-72 victory over MSU at Ford Field.

Ellington, who finished 7-of-12 from the field, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range, was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

“I was talking a little trash to Travis Walton before we came,” said Ellington, a smile plastered to his face. “He was telling me he was going to shut me down.”

Ellington said he was fully aware of Walton’s defensive accomplishments this season. He was in the building Saturday when Walton held Connecticut guard A.J. Price to 5-of-20 shooting, and he knew about the job Walton did earlier this season on stars like Michigan’s Manny Harris and Texas’ A.J. Price.

But Ellington said he wasn’t intimidated by the thought of his matchup with Walton, insisting he embraced the opportunity to go up against the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

“I just took on the challenge,” he said. “He’s a great defender. He was there, he was in my face. You know, I just saw a pretty big basket tonight from the first half.”

Ellington scored all but two of his points in the opening period, when the Tar Heels established complete control of the game. The sharpshooter shot 7-of-9 from the field during the period, which freed space inside for forward Tyler Hansbrough.

Walton said Ellington confused him by running at different speeds and giving him multiple looks.

“When he was in his hot streak, it’s tough to guard a player like that,” Walton said. He (was) going hard all the time. He can groove into his spot, put the ball on the floor.

“Today was his night. He had a great tournament run, was averaging 19 points, been shooting the ball great. And he kept it going.”

Slow start

It’s tough to distinguish whether MSU was really bad or North Carolina was really good during the first 10 minutes of play, but more evidence supports the latter.

The Tar Heels started the game 6-of-7 from the field and scored on eight of their first 10 possessions, as they jumped out to a 17-7 lead before the popcorn guy made his first trip down the stairwell.

From there, it only got worse for the Spartans, who saw their deficit stretched to as much as 24 points with 4:48 left in the half.

“We knew the first five minutes of the game was gonna be very important,” Walton said. “That first five minutes of the game, we couldn’t stop it. When we did try to stop it, we had good looks, we didn’t make the shots.”

The Spartans, who trailed 55-34 at halftime, shot a respectable 44.4 percent from the field in the half, but committed 14 turnovers — many of which led to fast-break points for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina scored 17 points off turnovers in the half, and 25 in the game.

“The turnovers were the big key,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. “To have 14 turnovers in the first half on a team that doesn’t really press, that hurt us a little bit.”

Tournament notes

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MSU sophomore guard Kalin Lucas and senior center Goran Suton joined three Tar Heels on the All-Final Four team.

Lucas averaged 17.5 points and six assists, while Suton averaged 11 points and 7.5 rebounds against North Carolina and Connecticut.

Guard Ty Lawson and Hansbrough joined Ellington on the All-Final Four team.

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