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Michigan State fans’ hopes fizzle by halftime

COREY WILLIAMS
Associated Press Writer

DETROIT (AP) ó Down 55-34 at halftime, the party that was Michigan State’s magical season began to fizzle and sputter in downtown Detroit on Monday night, while the streets of Chapel Hill buzzed.

Detroit’s downtown had been on the verge of a green-and-white frenzy as Michigan State entered its third NCAA men’s basketball championship game. But the North Carolina Tar Heels won in a blowout, 89-72.

Crowds that hours earlier had filled two outdoor tents at Cheli’s Chili Bar in Detroit dissipated one by one, then in small groups, into the chilly night.

This year’s run through the tournament was still an accomplishment, 36-year-old Keley Taggart said at the start of the second half. The No. 2 seed Spartans knocked off two No. 1 seeds ó Louisville and Connecticut ó to get to the final game.

“I was here Saturday when the Spartans beat Connecticut,” Taggart said. “It was like nothing I’ve ever seen in Detroit. It brought us all together.”

East Lansing Police Lt. Kevin Daley said fans were subdued as the first half ended with the Spartans behind, 55-34.

By early Tuesday, East Lansing police had arrested three or four people they said were trying to set furniture on fire and jailed another half dozen for disorderly conduct, Daley said.

About 2,500 people had gathered at an apartment complex near campus, but the after-game crowd wasn’t courting trouble as police kept an eye on the gathering, he said.

Thousands of Spartan fans watched the game on the huge electronic scoreboards at the Breslin Center, Michigan State’s basketball arena, making the best out of a great tournament run.

“No. 2 out of 64 teams ó that’s pretty impressive, especially since they weren’t supposed to make it that far,” said recent Michigan State graduate Erich Haezebrouck of Delta Township, near Lansing.

In Chapel Hill, police said about 50,000 gathered on the main downtown drag in Chapel Hill after the win. About 20 small fires of wood and paper were lit in the street and some fans jumped over them in celebration.

Ottis Cox, a 2005 UNC alumnus and youth minister in Plymouth, N.C., said he didn’t know what possessed him when asked why he jumped through the flames.

“I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s unexplainable. You talking about the fire or the national championship?”

Police there reported only a handful of arrests, along with several ambulance calls for problems ranging from alcohol use to burns from the fires in the street, Lt. Kevin Gunter said.

“Considering the number of people in a very confined area, things are going relatively well,” he said.

Earlier, students and fans packed the Smith Center to watch Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and the rest of coach Roy Williams’ team in larger-than-life fashion, on a 16-foot-by-20-foot screen and four video scoreboards.

The rowdy fans jumped around before the opening tip, as is customary there before a game. They roared with glee as the Tar Heels needed only about 4 minutes to build a double-digit lead.

And after they went up by 20 midway through the first half ó making victory almost certain ó the time on the game clock couldn’t tick away quickly enough.

In the usual friendly wager between the schools’ home state governors, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who attended the game, now owes North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue a photo of her wearing a Tar Heels jersey while dining on North Carolina specialties Perdue will send. She also has to donate $100 to a North Carolina food bank.

___

Associated Press writers Kathy Barks Hoffman in East Lansing and Joedy McCreary in Chapel Hill, N.C., contributed to this report.

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