GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A bad pass led to a turnover, and Ty Lawson was headed the other way, a blur down the court, just like always. He split two LSU defenders, waltzed through the lane, then flipped the ball up at the rim, where it bounced, spun, fell through and continued the North Carolina run responsible for this North Carolina blowout.
Tar Heels fans don't want to hear another word about Ty Lawson's toe. (Getty Images)
The crowd raised its arms and yelled.
So did Lawson.
His big right toe seemed just fine.
This state will sleep peacefully tonight.
"[That play] kind of shocked me; I didn't think he still had it in him," said UNC senior Danny Green. "It was a great move ... and it kind of, I guess, made a statement that he is back. So I expect him to keep doing that from now on."
All those questions about Ty Lawson's toe -- and his toughness, long as we're being honest -- were answered Saturday in an 84-70 win over LSU that launched the Tar Heels into the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. The ACC Player of the Year got 23 points and six assists (with no turnovers) in his first game in nearly two weeks, and that 21 of those points came in the second half was the main reason the Tar Heels overcame a five-point deficit with less than 13 minutes to play and closed on a 35-16 run.
Was it Curt Schilling with a bloody sock?
No, not quite.
I never saw any blood.
But it was big, relatively speaking, because as talented as these Tar Heels are -- and they are talented, proof being that future lottery pick Ed Davis comes off the bench -- there's just no way they're winning a national title without Lawson running the point. He has to play and play well. And that's exactly what he did in this matchup of champions from power leagues, which allowed UNC to score 12 points in transition and shoot 54.2 percent from the field.
"He took it up another level," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. "He showed why he was the Player of the Year in the league."
Meantime, the Tar Heels showed why they are the favorite to win this NCAA tournament. Sure, it would be nice if they were a little better defensively (LSU shot 50.0 in the second half and 45.3 percent for the game), nice if they got stops a little more regularly. But to focus on that is to nitpick and not recognize that this team is capable of outscoring most opponents. The 84 points they hung on LSU was the second-highest total anybody has hung on LSU in 40 minutes this season, and it barely mattered that the ACC's all-time leading scorer (Tyler Hansbrough) nearly missed as many shots as he made while spending a portion of the second half throwing shots into the outstretched arm of Chris Johnson.
With or without Hansbrough making shots, the Tar Heels are going to score.
Especially when they're being led by Lawson.
"I kidded the little fella, called him Dennis the Menace, and that's exactly who he is," Williams said. "But I've never seen Dennis the Menace as tough as I saw him today."
Added Lawson: "I'm a little sore now."
That's not good.
But the good news is that the Tar Heels don't play again until Friday.
That's six days of rest.
So North Carolina's most famous toe should be fine by the time it gets to Memphis.
Which is bad news for every other team that'll be in Memphis.