N. Carolina coasts by Michigan State

By Lisa Koulias

ST. LOUIS – North Carolina was hot shooting 57.1 percent in the second half, holding Michigan State to only 29.4 percent from the floor in the second half, as the Tar Heels rallied from a halftime deficit to beat the Spartans, 87-71, to advance to the national championship game on Monday against Illinois.

“You have to give those guys credit,” said Michigan State’s Maurice Ager. “They played very well. They made the plays that we missed. They did a great job in the second half, and we played terribly.”

“We came out and played hard all year. We did a lot of things that were very positive. Nobody thought we’d get this far. Losing this way definitely hurts the most.”

Michigan State came out hot, as it knocked down nine-straight points to turn a 25-20 deficit into a 29-25 lead. Then State’s Shannon Brown hit two-straight threes to give the Spartans their biggest lead of the half, at 35-27 with 2:48 left.

Michigan State held North Carolina’s top scorer, Sean May, to 2-of-8 shooting, for only four first-half points.

But after the five-point halftime deficit, the Tar Heels would only fight back, leading by as many as 18 in the second half.

“I challenged them at halftime,” said North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. “We were down four against Villanova, five was nothing if we went out and played. You just have to look at these youngsters up here and realize how hard they competed in the second half against a big-time Michigan State team.”

Carolina forward Jawad Williams added eight points to his 12-point first half, to finish with 20 points, his sixth 20-plus scoring game of the season.

May improved to go 7-of-10 in the second half to finish with a game-high 22 points. It was his 20th straight double-figure scoring game and 10th 20-plus scoring game of the season.

“I thought they came out in the second half more aggressive and demanding the ball and going after more rebounds,” said Michigan State’s Paul Davis. “You know, that’s the kind of player (May) is. He’s the guy that you have to shut down for 40 minutes, not just 20.”

Ager tied a career-high with 24 points, while Davis recorded his 13th double-double of his career with 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, as the Spartans ended their season with a 26-7 record.

“We played well in our conference,” said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. “Those seniors didn’t deserve the abuse they took, and yet they fell a little short tonight when some opportunities were there and fell a little short during the season when some opportunities were there.”

“But I am proud of what they have done. I’m happy for them, that they have something to leave behind.”