Shell-shocked Spartans

DETROIT – Tom Izzo described his team as shell-shocked.

Magic Johnson said it might have been a case of stage fright.

However you term it, whatever the diagnosis, Michigan State’s bid for the national championship Monday night was trampled in the game’s first five to 10 minutes.

There were many factors that played a part in North Carolina’s 89-72 blowout victory at Ford Field, not the least of which being that the Tar Heels are a remarkably talented basketball team, chock full of future NBAers.

Still the Spartans could also blame themselves for not taking care of the basketball, not knocking down open shots and not resembling the mentally tough team that had beaten the defending national champs and two No. 1 seeds in their previous three games.

“We’ve been pretty damn good in a lot of areas,” Izzo said. “But today wasn’t one of them. I think it’s fair to say it was a combination of both us and them. But we have to take some blame.”

UNC collected a staggering 14 turnovers over the first 20 minutes. Tar Heels point guard Ty Lawson had seven steals over than span, eight for the game. Less than five minutes in, UNC was up by 10 points thanks in part to four Spartans turnovers and three missed shots. The Heels, meanwhile, made four of their first five shots.

“It was a blur when they kind of jumped out so fast,” said MSU senior guard Travis Walton, who committed four turnovers, three early. “In the first five minutes it was more of us turning the ball over foolishly.”

MSU’s two main catalysts – sophomore point guard Kalin Lucas and senior center Goran Suton – had three first-half giveaways apiece.

The Heels’ lead grew to 20 points by the 10:22 mark as Lawson took the ball away, the Spartans gave it away and Wayne Ellington poured in nine of his 17 first-half points.

All the talk about what an advantage the roughly 55,000 fans here cheering for MSU would be was muted. The stadium had about as much buzz as a swatted hornet. On the Spartans bench, blank expressions were part of the uniform.

“There was a deer in the headlights look and some of it was our upperclassmen,” Izzo said. “It wasn’t Lucas. [Durrell] Summers and [Chris] Allen struggled. They had some really good looks and just couldn’t buy one. That hurts you when you’re playing a team as good as this one.”

Allen finished 0 for 8 from the field. Summers was 4 for 10, missing a few early that should have fallen.

By halftime the Spartans had set an NCAA championship game record by allowing 55 points and were down by 21. The Tar Heels scored 17 points off MSU miscues.

In the second half, MSU managed to get as close as 78-65 with 4:46 left. By then, the Spartans were spent. Their remarkable tournament run, highlighted by consecutive wins over Kansas, Louisville and Connecticut, ended in disappointing fashion. They shot just 40 percent in the finale, 35.7 percent in the second half.

“It wasn’t our night.” Izzo said. “We didn’t make enough shots. We didn’t do enough things right.”

You had to feel for Suton, looking a little weepy after playing his final game. He looked shaky early handling the ball but rallied to finish with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He made 3 of 4 3-point attempts.

“We lost the game in the first 10 minutes,” he said. “We turned the ball over and they hit pretty much every shot.”

Gerry Ahern is the Managing Editor/Colleges for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Gerry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Apr 7, 2009