Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

North Carolina Tar Heels' Ty Lawson quiets doubters in win over LSU in second round of NCAA Tournament

UNC’s Ty Lawson, battling an injured right big toe, drives past LSU’s Tasmin Mitchell.

Associated Press

UNC’s Ty Lawson, battling an injured right big toe, drives past LSU’s Tasmin Mitchell.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — For all the games, this is the one they will remember.

For all the points, for all the assists, for all the moments in all of the victories, this is the image North Carolina fans will remember when they hear the name of Ty Lawson.

There is one minute to go, and disaster has been averted, and Lawson is limping toward the Tar Heels bench. His head is slightly bowed, and the sweat is pouring freely, and the approval of the crowd washes over him.

Once again, North Carolina's basketball team is complete.

Once again, the focus is off his toe and onto his Heels.

This is his legacy. This is his moment. Lawson, the star point guard of the Tar Heels, finally returned to play Saturday. Think of it as his Willis Reed moment. Lawson found a way to endure the pain in his right big toe, and because of it, North Carolina found a way to beat LSU and advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

For 17 minutes of the second half, when the game counted the most, Lawson was the best player on the floor. He was everywhere, leading the Heels' charge, calming the offense, sparking the defense. He scored 21 points in that span, hitting six shots as the Tar Heels turned a five-point deficit into a 14-point victory.

After this, perhaps the doubts will disappear when it comes to Lawson's willingness to play with pain. For a week now, there have been those who have argued that Lawson's toe wasn't nearly as painful as he was making it out to be. He has been called soft, or worse.

As for those who doubted him? Don't you wonder how many of those were among the people dressed in sky blue calling out his name?

This is the absurdity of questioning a player's toughness, because unless others can feel his pain, how would anyone possibly know how bad it is? This is the silliness when passion takes some fans to unreasonable assumptions.

"I've never seen Dennis the Menace as tough as I saw him today," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "It was a tough performance by a young man who has had people question his toughness, and that's probably the most satisfying thing."

It was satisfying to Lawson, too, particularly after he struggled for most of the first half.

He had not practiced, and he was rusty, and he was in pain. He had not taken a pain shot (as he had before the regular-season finale against Duke), and from the start, Lawson seemed timid, as if he were unsure of just how much he could trust the toe. He admitted it hurt to slide the foot while on defense, and he didn't want to drive off his toes toward the basket.

Five minutes into the game, Lawson heard a loud pop in his foot. He came out, and trainers worked on the foot. He admitted later he didn't know whether he would go back in or not. But the trainers told him it was scar tissue.

"I was extremely concerned," Williams said. "It was the opposite of kryptonite, I guess. I have no idea what the doctors did at that point."

Whatever they did, they should keep doing it.

By the second half, Lawson had rediscovered his aggressiveness, and suddenly, he was matching the rhythm of the game. He hit a 3. He hit another. He drove to the basket for a three-point play. He was the answer for every basket LSU made.

He was Lawson again, and just like that, the Heels were the Heels again.

"It means a lot to play like that," Lawson said later. He sat on a fluffy couch in a meeting room, his foot in a walking boot and a bottle of codeine tablets in his hand.

"My teammates had been carrying me," the 21-year-old junior said. "But these are the kind of games that I play basketball for."

His foot hurt, if you want to know. It was swelling again. But for the record, Lawson expects to play in the Heels' next game, too, Friday in Memphis. His teammates expect it, too.

"Sometimes he does limp around and act soft," teammate Danny Green said, "but I know how tough he can be. When the game's on the line, big-time players step up and do big-time things."

Sometimes, it's a big shot. Sometimes, it's a big drive to the basket. Sometimes, it's a big pass.

Sometimes, it's swallowing the pain and withstanding the pressure. Sometimes, it's leaving an injury in the locker room and a memory on the floor.

Carolina fans should never forget.

Especially the ones who doubted.

North Carolina Tar Heels' Ty Lawson quiets doubters in win over LSU in second round of NCAA Tournament 03/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2009 11:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, with Cobb pitching with a purpose

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 12:34: Cash said he has been pleased with Sucre's work and is trying to find playing time for him. ... Cash also said after reading Farquhar's comments about having trouble re-focusing after getting out of a jam and then going back out for a second inning he will factor that in to how he uses him. ... …

  2. St. Petersburg's Sebastien Bourdais vows to return for IndyCar finale

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Sebastien Bourdais was in one of the best race cars he'd ever had, so fast that most of his competitors thought he would win the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

    Sebastien Bourdais does physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana in Indianapolis. Bourdais broke his pelvis, hip and two ribs in an accident during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 20. He plans to return home to St. Petersburg soon to continue therapy. [Associated Press]
  3. Yellow cards stall Rowdies offense in tie with St. Louis

    Soccer

    ST. PETERSBURG — It's not the result they wanted, but it certainly could have been worse. Neill Collins' 87th-minute header off a corner kick was the reward the Rowdies settled for Saturday night during a 1-1 draw with St. Louis before an announced 6,068 at Al Lang Stadium.

  4. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title

    Baseballpreps

    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.
  5. Numerous lapses add up to frustrating Rays loss to Twins

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — While the Rays made some good defensive plays, threw a couple of big pitches when they needed to and got a few, and just a few, key hits, there were some obvious things they did wrong that led to them losing Saturday's game to the Twins 5-3:

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter says the Twins’ tiebreaking homer came on a pitch that was “close to where I wanted it.”