Michigan State, North Carolina in Final

Ellington helps Tar Heels to another easy NCAA win
AARON BEARD
The Associated Press

DETROIT – Wayne Ellington broke Jay Wright’s heart again.

First the kid from the Philadelphia suburbs with the smooth jump shot chose to play for North Carolina over Wright’s Villanova program.

Now he’s a big reason the Wildcats’ surprising Final Four run is over and the Tar Heels have moved on to play for the national championship most everyone expected them to win in the preseason.

Ellington scored 13 of his 20 points in the first half to help the Tar Heels beat the Wildcats 83-69 on Saturday night. His fast start was a big reason why the Tar Heels controlled the game from tip-off, helping them push out to a double-digit lead and keeping the Wildcats playing catch-up the rest of the night.

And while he had a relatively quiet second half, he came through with a pair of key 3-pointers that helped the Tar Heels (33-4) finally put the game away.

Ellington finished 7-for-14 from the floor and hit five 3-pointers, his second strong shooting performance of the season in cavernous Ford Field. In December, he had 17 points on 8-for-14 shooting in the 98-63 rout of Michigan State, the last team standing between the Tar Heels and their season-long pursuit of the title that got away last season.

It was exactly the type of performance that North Carolina coach Roy Williams had envisioned when he recruited the 6-foot-4 guard out of Wynnewood, Pa. Unfortunately, the same could be said of Wright — who playfully said this week that Ellington’s decision to head south “broke my heart, man.”

This time, Ellington probably made him feel far worse.

He was a key piece of North Carolina’s overwhelming attack that was just far too much for the same defense that had locked down on North Carolina’s Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. He was the perfect complement to Tyler Hansbrough inside, finding frequent open looks on kickouts from the interior or on Ty Lawson’s penetration from the point.

He made it look easy, too. He scored North Carolina’s first basket on a soft jumper in the first 90 seconds, then came through with a 3 from the right corner off a feed from Lawson for an 8-6 lead about 3 minutes in.

It turned out to be the go-ahead basket, with North Carolina leading comfortably for most of the game. Villanova got as close as five points early in the second half before the Tar Heels pushed the lead right back to double digits. Then, with the Wildcats hanging around, Ellington took a feed from Lawson in transition and knocked down a 3-pointer in front of the North Carolina bench to push the gap to 70-55 with 6:53 to play.

Michigan State defeats UConn 82-73
The Associated Press

DETROIT — As his Michigan State teammates hustled downcourt, Kalin Lucas looked around at a stadium ablaze in green and white, turned on his megawatt smile and raised both his arms.

No worries, he seemed to be saying, we’ve got you.

Carrying an entire state knocked down by the economic crisis is a lot to ask of a group of college kids, but the Spartans are proving they’re more than up to the task.

“It means so much, so much,” said Magic Johnson, who sat just a few rows behind the Michigan State bench Saturday night. “It’s been all bad news the last couple of years.”

It’s nothing but good news now. Lucas scored 21 points, Raymar Morgan broke out of his late-season slump with 18 and nine rebounds, and the smaller Spartans ran roughshod over Hasheem Thabeet and Connecticut in an 82-73 upset in the Final Four on Saturday night.

The Spartans (31-6) now will play North Carolina for the NCAA title Monday night, giving the city and state at least two more days to forget all the bad news and revel in their Spartans’ success.

It’s Michigan State’s first appearance in the title game since 2000, when the Spartans won their second title.

“One thing we talked about is bringing hope to the city for a whole weekend,” said Travis Walton, who dished out eight assists. “People forgetting about their problems, forgetting about what they’re going through, just focusing on us and focusing on Michigan State.

“From the moment we were on that court and we won that game, people didn’t think about what they was going through outside of this. They was just happy that we won and they can continue to cheer for us on Monday.”

How’s this for some karma? Johnson, Spartan-in-chief since leading Michigan State to its first title in 1979, will present the game ball before Monday’s title game along with Larry Bird.

“I hope we were a ray of sunshine, a distraction for them, a diversion, anything else we can be,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We’re not done yet, so hopefully we can continue to make them feel a little better and us feel a lot better.”

The loss is the latest blow for UConn, the best team in the country until Jerome Dyson went down with a knee injury in mid-February. The Huskies (31-5) have been dealing with distractions since last May, when coach Jim Calhoun was diagnosed with his third bout with cancer, and are now facing questions about alleged recruiting violations.

The loss snapped Calhoun and Connecticut’s perfect run in the Final Four. They’d made it twice before — 1999 and 2004 — and went on to win the title each time.

 

The Associated Press