MSU hold Tar Heels to historic low shooting to claim PK80 title
After defeating DePaul and Connecticut to advance to the championship round of the PK80, No. 4 MSU breezed past No. 9 North Carolina Sunday 63-45 to claim the Victory Bracket title and hold the reigning National Champion Tar Heels to its lowest field goal percentage in program history.
The win marked head coach Tom Izzo’s first win over UNC since 2000 and his second-ever win against the Tar Heels.
Sophomore guard Joshua Langford scored a career-high 23 points. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound product of Huntsville, Alabama, finished shooting 8 of 11 from the floor with 5 of the team’s 9 3-pointers to go with four boards and four fouls.
Langford and the Spartans forced the tempo early. Two baskets from Langford and a shot from behind the arc by sophomore shooting guard Miles Bridges helped MSU take an early 7-6 lead. Three consecutive buckets from MSU preceded an 11-2 run for MSU over three minutes to give MSU the lead for good and a 25-12 advantage midway through the first half.
MSU pushed its lead all the way to 17 before halftime, but went into the locker room leading 37-23 with a buzzer-beating three from UNC point guard Joel Berry. Langford led all scorers with 14 points at the half and helped MSU shoot 40 percent and held the Tar Heels to 28 percent shooting and forced 11 turnovers.
MSU continued to disrupt the Tar Heels’ tempo in the second half as early field goals from Bridges, Langford and senior guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. helped push the lead to 21 points at one point.
UNC, however, refused to go down without a fight. After junior guard Matt McQuaid connected on four-straight free throws to give MSU a 55-33 lead. The Tar Heels held MSU scoreless for over four minutes and cut the deficit to 14 points until Bridges ended MSU’s eight-minute field goal drought.
Bridges’s layup to end the drought was followed by threes from freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and Langford to seal UNC’s fate. Bridges followed Langford with 11 points and Jackson finished with three.
Defensive dominance: UNC, unable to ever establish a scoring rhythm, turned the ball over 16 times and were held to 24.6 percent from the field — the worst total ever in program history.
Sophomore forward Nick Ward’s game-high eight rebounds helped give MSU the 52-36 advantage on the glass. Ward also finished with seven points and a game-high four blocks.
UNC was scoreless behind the arc in the second half and finished the game 1-for-18 from deep and was forced to keep the ball inside — 26 of the Tar Heels’ points were scored inside the paint.
Turnovers: Though MSU forced 16 turnovers, the Spartans turned the ball over 24 times themselves. Most of that, however, was attributed to the 23 fouls called on MSU, which allowed UNC to go to the line 24 times.
Izzo was forced to play bench player Connor George in the first quarter Matt McQuaid, point guard Cassius Winston, Bridges and Langford each had two fouls.
The most severe foul called on MSU was a flagrant 1 called on Jackson with 7:03 minutes to play, which resulted in two free throws by UNC’s Theo Pinson, who scored a team-high 16 points.
MSU will rest up before it hosts conference-leading Notre Dame at the Breslin Center for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Thursday. Thursday’s game will mark the Fighting Irish’s first-ever meeting at the Breslin. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.