North Carolina's Brice Johnson (11) and Isaiah Hicks, right, and Michigan State's Gavin Schilling (34) and Adreian Payne, center, fight for a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. North Carolina won 79-65. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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Al Goldis

North Carolina's Brice Johnson (11) and Isaiah Hicks, right, and Michigan State's Gavin Schilling (34) and Adreian Payne, center, fight for a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. North Carolina won 79-65. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

North Carolina beats up on top-ranked Spartans

By Larry Lage

Associated Press

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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State was manhandled and outhustled by North Carolina.

And, the Spartans’ school-record, three-week run as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press college basketball poll ended with a thud.

The Tar Heels had five scorers in double figures and more players going after loose balls and rebounds in a 79-65 win against Michigan State on its home court Wednesday.

“We looked like a softer team,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “That solely falls on me, nobody else.”

Michigan State (7-1) looked listless early and couldn’t recover.

The Tar Heels scored the first six points of the game and led 16-4 while holding the Spartans to 1-for-7 shooting with four turnovers.

“They came out and hit us in the mouth first,” Michigan State guard Gary Harris said.

The Spartans started the season ranked No. 2 and moved to the top spot by beating then-No. 1 Kentucky, becoming just the third top-ranked team in program history.

Behind the scenes, though, Izzo was worried that his team wouldn’t fare well against North Carolina.

Harris has been slowed by an ankle injury, Adreian Payne is playing with a foot ailment and Matt Costello might have mononucleosis.

“We played how we practiced,” Izzo said.

The Tar Heels, meanwhile, were forced to watch more film from their loss to UAB, which followed a win against then-No. 3 Louisville, the night before they played at Michigan State because coach Roy Williams still had some teaching points he wanted to make.

“I told them at that point, the UAB game was over,” Williams said.

North Carolina (5-2) made the most of its opportunity to flash its potential, dominating a team that hadn’t lost at home to an unranked, nonconference opponent in more than a decade.

“They came off a loss, and they looked hungrier,” Izzo said. “We came off all the hype, and we looked not as hungry.”

Kennedy Meeks scored 15 points, Brice Johnson had 14 off the bench, Marcus Paige and Nate Britt added 13 apiece while J.P. Tokoto had 12 points and a career-high 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels.

“I truly believe after the Louisville win, our mentality after that was, ‘Birmingham is just going to be an automatic win. Just because we’re North Carolina,’” Tokoto said. “We can’t have that mentality, and kind of learned that Sunday night. We came here, were ready to play, intensity level was up, and we got results.”

The Spartans weren’t ready and didn’t respond later in the game when it was clear they had to play with more energy and passion to compete.

“Michigan State did not want it that much more than we did,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

Izzo agreed.

“We looked soft,” he said.

North Carolina outrebounded the Spartans by 11, leading to 19 second-chance points. The Tar Heels turned 14 of Michigan State’s turnovers into 19 points and held the Spartans to 36 percent shooting.

“We’re as happy as we can possibly be – 179 degrees away from where we were after the UAB game,” Williams said.

“You can’t tell in college basketball what’s going to happen,” Williams said.

Harris had 17 points and Keith Appling scored 13, but both Michigan State guards missed 10 of 15 shots. Payne had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Spartans, whose last loss at home against an unranked nonconference team was Toledo on Dec. 30, 2002.

The Tar Heels beat a No. 1 team for the first time since March 4, 2006, at Duke, and they have a nation-high 13 wins over top-ranked teams. They’ve won seven straight against the Spartans, including in the 2009 NCAA final.

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