|Suton a rare ray of sunshine for the Spartans|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 06 April 2009 19:52|
After missing Michigan State's first loss to North Carolina this season, he was their best player four months later in Monday night's NCAA championship game.
On the bench or on the court, Suton saw the Tar Heels stomp the Spartans twice this season.
Suton sat out North Carolina's December romp in Ford Field with a knee injury, but played 31 minutes in the Spartans' 89-72 loss to the Tar Heels in the national championship game.
Suton had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the final game of his Michigan State career. He blocked a couple of shots and made seven baskets - or one fewer than Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers combined.
Suton, who fled war-torn Bosnia on a military airplane as a child, couldn't find a weakness in the Tar Heels' lineup.
sag off or do certain things,'' Suton said. ``With North Carolina all five players are scorers. Everybody can do something. It was tough to help. I think we got caught up trying to stick with our man.''
It was the first time in three trips that Michigan State had lost in the title game; it won in 1979 and 2000. But the Spartans appearance here did keep another streak alive: Every four-year player recruited by coach Tom Izzo - like Suton - has appeared in at least one Final Four.
``It was great to see this senior class go out the way they did,'' Izzo said. ``It was a struggle to get here, and they had a lot of pressure on them, and I thought they handled it incredibly well. We looked like a team that ran out of gas a little bit, maybe deservingly so.''
RECORD CROWD: They came wearing green, hoping their Spartans could give a boost to a city needing any kind of emotional lift. And they packed Ford Field in record numbers, too. Wearing MSU green or NC's light blue, 72,922 fans filled the national championship game on Monday night, setting a championship game record.
The Final Four attracted a two-day attendance total of 145,378 in a stadium normally used for football.
re beautiful setting for a college basketball weekend as far as in this arena, the job that everybody did, I would just like to thank you, take my hat off to 'em.''
MAKING MAGIC: Thirty years later, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are still as captivating.
The duo whose rivalry changed college basketball and turned the NCAA tournament into March Madness, were together again Monday night. The NCAA asked them to present the ball before the title game in honor of the 30th anniversary of their iconic matchup, and the two friends joked and laughed as they reminisced about that game and what it meant to them.
``We played the game the right way. We didn't play it for ourselves, we played it for our team,'' Johnson said when asked why Americans still have a fascination with the two of them. ``We were two unique guys being over 6-8, being able to handle the ball, being able to score inside or outside, being able to make the right pass to our teammates. Because we really didn't care about scoring. We really cared about winning the game.
``And then you have one player black, one player white. One player who smiles, one who don't - except right now,'' Johnson said, flashing that dazzling smile as he put a hand on Bird's shoulder. ``I think it was just special.''
ch different era then. There were a handful of channels to choose from, not a few hundred. Players were lucky to get on national television once, maybe twice during the regular season, and there were no Web sites or ESPN to chronicle the every move of every team.
But Magic and Bird produced a seismic shift in the game. Their personalities were as different as their games - Magic was the outgoing city kid with the dazzling smile, Bird was the shy guy from rural Indiana - and the fact that their rivalry continued well into their NBA careers has made their first meeting seem that much more special.
That the fierce rivals became such good friends made them all the more appealing. Their affection was clear Monday, with Johnson often putting his arm around Bird's shoulders and both making references to conversations they've had before. And Bird is still very much Johnson's straight man.
``I always tell people, Michael (Jordan) was the greatest in the air that I've ever seen, and Larry Bird is the greatest that ever played on the ground. Because Larry couldn't jump but that high,'' Johnson said, holding his thumb and index finger slightly apart.
``Not like you was flying through the air either,'' Bird deadpanned. ``Trip over the painted lines.''
MJ VS. MAGIC: Magic vs. Michael for the title again?
gested Monday that if the national championship game were tied after overtime, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan should decide the outcome with a game of 1-on-1.
Turns out, the Tar Heels were doing fine without him. Jordan pumped his firsts at the cheering Carolina fans as he left a halftime ceremony honoring the newest Hall of Famers. North Carolina set records for points in a first half of an NCAA championship game and led the Spartans 55-34 at halftime.
``They're playing great,'' Jordan said. ``I'm not complaining''
Both Hall of Famers - Jordan was elected Monday - won national championships for their teams and are expected to be in the stands cheering on their schools. Jordan's jumper from the left wing lifted North Carolina past Georgetown for the 1982 title. Johnson led Michigan State over Larry Bird and Indiana State three decades ago.
Jordan got the better of Johnson in the NBA, leading the Bulls to the first of their six titles with a five-game victory in the 1991 finals.
Talk of a rematch brought out the trash talk in the notoriously competitive Jordan.
``You really think he can beat me?'' Jordan said. ``He couldn't beat me in the finals at all.''
``You ready?'' Jordan asked Lawson, putting his hand on his shoulder.
Jordan said he wouldn't speak to the team before the game, noting that he didn't do so before the Tar Heels beat Illinois for the 2005 title.
But if he were?
``These are the games that are a lot of fun because the expectations are a lot higher,'' Jordan said. ``The stakes are a lot higher. But that's what you live for. That's what's fun about it. I'd tell the guys just go out and be who you are and have fun.''
CHAMPIONSHIP PARALLELS?: North Carolina's path to the national title had a familiar feel, especially when compared to the Tar Heels' past two title runs.
All three teams went into the final with almost identical records and faced opponents from the Big Ten conference. Before Monday's game against Michigan State, the Tar Heels had the same 33-4 record as the 1993 team that beat Michigan's ``Fab Five.'' The 2005 team was 32-4 before beating Illinois.
In addition, all three teams lost at Wake Forest in January and headed into the NCAA tournament following a close loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament despite winning the league's regular-season crown. The 1993 team lost in the ACC final by two points, while the 2005 and 2009 squads both lost in the semifinals by three points.
Ty Lawson won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard just as Raymond Felton did the morning of the '05 title game.
Lawson did manage to avoid one unwanted similarity.
Coach Roy Williams said Felton nearly dropped the award when it was presented to him and threw his back out trying to hold on to it. He said Felton needed about two hours of massage from a therapist before the game.
No such drama with Lawson, who held his hands under the award and rested it against his chest for a photo.
``I have coached Tywon to have his feet spread shoulder-width apart with the weight distributed on the balls of his feet,'' Williams said. ``When he's handed the award, it'll show you part of leadership is taking coaching.''
Associated Press National Writer Nancy Armour and AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard, Dan Gelston and Larry Lage contributed to this report.