By MICHAEL ROSENBERG
DETROIT FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
April 7, 2009
Yeah, fine. You Tar Heels go celebrate. But a little warning, fellas: Michigan State is going to kick your butt the third time around.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the better team won Monday night. This truth should make the result easier on Spartan fans -- and, eventually, easier on the Spartans themselves.
Normally after a big loss, you ask what-if questions. Try that now. It’s almost impossible. What if the South had won the Civil War? Then North Carolina couldn’t possibly won the national championship!
In order to win this game, Michigan State had to limit turnovers, outrebound the Tar Heels, make smart decisions in transition, and perhaps remove North Carolina’s hoop. The Spartans did none of those things, and while I respect the sportsmanship of leaving that hoop up there, I question the wisdom.
When these teams played back in December –- a game we will refer to, henceforth, as “the good one” –- Michigan State committed 21 turnovers and North Carolina committed nine. Obviously, that had to change for MSU to win Monday.
And it did. It got worse. MSU lost the ball 14 times in the first half alone. They committed turnovers on fast breaks, they committed turnovers in their halfcourt offense, they ate turnovers in the huddle. It was absurd.
“Kind of foolish turnovers,” MSU guard Travis Walton said. “Kind of the same thing we did in the first game.”
North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson had seven steals in the first half alone. That gave Lawson 14 steals in 46 minutes against MSU this season. In other news, Lawson now owns legal title to MSU's Berkowitz Basketball Complex and has somehow accumulated enough credits to earn to bachelor’s degrees from Michigan State.
At one point, Lawson drove into a triple-team and the Spartans still couldn’t stop him. He got fouled. It’s just a shame that Michigan State never got that fourth defender over there in time.
DETROIT - APRIL 06: Ty Lawson #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives in the first half against Delvon Roe #10 and Kalin Lucas #1 of 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)
In the first game, North Carolina scored a preposterous 53 points in the first half. This time the Tar Heels saw that total and raised it two. It was 55-34 at the break, the biggest halftime margin in championship game history.
So the teams came out for the second half, and there was no realistic chance of Michigan State winning the game at that point, but in sports, sometimes you trick yourself into believing. If they cut it to 10 …
Apparently, even the Spartans were playing that trick. Asked about his halftime thoughts, Walton said: “We felt we could have gotten it within 10.”
Then Durrell Summers committed a turnover. Two possessions later, Raymar Morgan was whistled for a moving pick. Another turnover.
You can say Michigan State played lousy, and you’d be right. But say this, too: the best team in the country played at an extremely high level in the national championship game.
That’s almost impossible to beat. Ask Larry Bird. Thirty years ago, Michigan State won its first national championship against Indiana State in the famous Magic Johnson-Larry Bird game. At a news conference Monday, Bird talked about his thoughts after beating DePaul in a semifinal.
“I remember back at the hotel, I had some time by myself,” Bird said. “I was thinking, ‘If I don't score 40 points Monday night, we don't have a chance to win.’ I really believed that at the time.“
Bird says he has never watched a tape of that game. Too painful. But there is this, too: for 30 years, Larry Bird has always known that the better team won. Sometimes, you don’t have to check the tape. Sometimes, you just know.
Contact MICHAEL ROSENBERG: 313-222-6052 or firstname.lastname@example.org.