DETROIT — As the blue and yellow confetti streamed to the floor around him, North Carolina star senior Tyler Hansbrough bounded across the court, pumping his right fist toward the stands where his family stood clapping.
And then, the ever-intense, ultra competitive Hansbrough smiled.
A championship smile. Finally.
The Tar Heels, looking like the juggernaut they were expected to be when Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green eschewed the NBA draft to return to school for another year, overwhelmed the Michigan State Spartans 89-72 at Ford Field on Monday to claim another NCAA title.
They now have five championships (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009) to move into a third-place tie with Indiana for most in NCAA history. UCLA has 11 and Kentucky seven.
"As far as coming back," Hansbrough said, a net around his neck, "(seems) like I made a pretty good decision. Nothing beats this feeling right here."
"It's the culmination of his dreams since he was old enough to know what a basketball was," said Hansbrough's father, Gene. "His dream was to win a national championship. … He didn't do it by himself. He's part of a team that did it. That's the big thing. He's part of a marvelous team that worked hard together to win a championship."
Hansbrough scored 18 to give him 325 in his NCAA Tournament career, fourth all time. Ellington, the Most Outstanding Player, scored 19 (17 in the decisive first half), and Lawson had 21 to go with six assists and a championship game-record eight steals.
"It feels great," a teary Ellington said. "We worked so hard."
Although far healthier and playing far better than they did on Dec. 3 when the Tar Heels came to this building and embarrassed them 98-63, the Spartans (31-7) were simply overmatched.
"The best team won, that's an easy statement to make," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who earlier had candidly conceded the Heels were, man-for-man, more talented.
UNC (34-4) opened by hitting six of its first seven shots to take a 17-7 lead by the first television timeout. If it wasn't Ellington hitting a 3-pointer (and he was 3-of-3 in the half), it was Hansbrough or junior forward Deon Thompson or freshman forward Ed Davis scoring inside off a Lawson steal.
"It was a blur," said MSU senior guard Travis Walton, the Big Ten's top defensive player.
That all but silenced the predominately green-clad crowd of 72,922, a record for a tourney game (surpassing the 72,456 that came on Saturday) and the second largest in NCAA history.
It didn't help that the Spartans, who had been so impressive in wins against No. 1 seeds Louisville and Connecticut, committed too many turnovers (14) that the Heels parlayed into 17 points.
UNC took a 24-point lead on an Ellington 3-pointer with 4:48 left in the half and went to the locker room with a 55-34 advantage — the biggest in a finale — that left the Spartans staring blankly as they walked off.
"We came out strong," Hansbrough said. "We knew it was going to be a big crowd here for them and we kind of wanted to take them out of it early."
Although the Tar Heels were flat after the break, the Spartans couldn't string together baskets and couldn't get closer than 13 the rest of the way.
"My hats off to (the players)," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "They took Roy Williams on one fantastic ride and it's something I'll never forget."
And yes, he had that championship smile, too.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.