1-2 punch: Illinois vs. UNC

Tar Heels' second-half spree sinks Mich. State

Final Four

April 03, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS - Sean May, the hottest player in the NCAA tournament, lumbered through an ineffective start.

Rashad McCants, maybe the most talented, was too cool to get on the floor after loose balls.

North Carolina, the nation's highest-scoring team, got outrun and muscled away from the basket early, as it attempted just one free throw in the first 26 minutes, but its laissez-faire attitude finally disappeared and so did Michigan State, which was bounced out of the Final Four by the Tar Heels, 87-71, last night.

The outcome at the Edward Jones Dome gives the NCAA tournament something it hasn't had in 30 years, a championship game between the nation's top-ranked teams, as North Carolina, No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, will challenge No. 1 Illinois tomorrow night.

North Carolina (32-4) scored 33 points in the first half. In the first 10 minutes of the second, it put up 34. May got 18 of his 22 and Raymond Felton got 14 of his 16 in the second half. Steady senior forward Jawad Williams had 20 for the Tar Heels.

The Tar Heels' regulars made 58.8 percent of their shots in the second half. The Spartans (26-7) dipped to 29.4, which led to a 33.8 percent shooting night, easily their worst of the season.

"That's not the North Carolina I'm used to seeing," Roy Williams said of his team's first-half effort. "We didn't compete in the first half, and I had to challenge them.

"It's the Final Four, the biggest stage, maybe guys are going tiptoeing through the tulips. I don't think our guys were overconfident. I don't think they were prima donnas. Michigan State hit them right in the mouth. We staggered a little bit and didn't know how to react. I wanted us to be more aggressive in the second half."

Making his fifth trip to the Final Four in 17 years as a head coach but the first at his alma mater, Williams will work his third championship game. Two years ago, his final Kansas team had a chance to beat Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony, but the Jayhawks' last shot was blocked at the end.

Another coach who has become a fixture at the Final Four is Michigan State's Tom Izzo, who was making his fourth appearance there in seven years.

When the Spartans ruled in 2000, they were ranked No. 2 in the nation. This time they arrived as a fifth seed out of the Austin Regional, where they gained confidence with wins over Duke and Kentucky. With the Illinois fans cheering on their Big Ten rivals, Michigan State played giant killer for another 25 minutes, until North Carolina began playing to its considerable potential.

Down by five at the half and facing a veteran team that was 22-1 when leading at the break, the Tar Heels outscored the Spartans 34-14 over the next 10 minutes. At the core of that domination was a 12-0 run that displayed all of North Carolina's weapons, as it scored in transition and in the half court, off post play and with the three-pointer.

Jawad Williams and May posted up for baskets. Felton, the slick point guard, scored in transition. McCants made one of two free throws, but at least he was willing to mix it up inside. The up-and-down junior added a three-pointer, and May made two free throws to make it 61-49 with 12:08 remaining.

Kelvin Torbert ended the Michigan State drought with a three-pointer, but the Tar Heels didn't let up, as May and Felton pushed the spread to 67-52 heading into the last 10 minutes. The Spartans were within 11 in the last four minutes, but North Carolina kept its composure and reached its first championship game since it won for Dean Smith in 1993.

"They're the best offensive team we've faced all year," said Michigan State's Shannon Brown, whose Spartans lost, 81-68, in their only meeting with Illinois this season.

Brown had 15 points for Michigan State, which got 24 from Maurice Ager but none from power forward Alan Anderson, who was badly outplayed by Jawad Williams.

Michigan State took a 38-33 lead at the half, as Brown disrupted Felton with his defense from the start and closed with a pair of late threes. The Spartans used their speed to trump the Tar Heels and a key three-minute sequence to take control of those first 20 minutes.

With Jackie Manuel in foul trouble and McCants yanked for his lack of hustle, Roy Williams tried to get through the seconds leading up to the TV timeout at the eight-minute mark with a rotation he has rarely used in a game of this magnitude. That stoppage didnt come until nearly three minutes had passed, as Williams called a much-needed 30-second timeout.

By then, a perimeter of freshman Quentin Thomas, Melvin Scott and David Noel had cost the Tar Heels, as the Spartans, behind their own reserves, scored seven straight to go up 27-25.

All week, Michigan State heard about North Carolina going from defense to offense quicker than anyone else in the nation, but the Spartans outscored the Tar Heels in transition 9-2 in the first half, before Williams got his team's attention.

"He said if we want to win this game, we've got to go out and play it like we want it," Felton said. "He got the point across."

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