North Carolina's Lawson Named ACC Player of the Year
March 10, 2009
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- No one has been able to keep up with Ty Lawson all year, not even in the race to be considered the Atlantic Coast Conference's top player.
The speedy junior was named the ACC Player of the Year Tuesday after guiding top-ranked North Carolina to the league's regular-season championship despite an 0-2 start in the league. Lawson earned 31 of 76 votes from Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association members, becoming only the second point guard to win the award along with Tar Heel legend Phil Ford in 1978.
Florida State's Toney Douglas finished second with 27 votes after helping the Seminoles finish fourth in the regular season. Reigning league and national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough was third with 13 votes.
Hansbrough was the unanimous preseason choice to win the award and led the ACC in scoring for a second straight season. But by the end of the year, Lawson had emerged as the Tar Heels' most valuable and irreplaceable player with a series of dominating late-game performances - most notably in a pair of wins against rival Duke.
"I don't mind being overshadowed because Tyler is a great player," Lawson said. "He just does everything for this team. But to come out and have everybody know how well I've been playing, it just makes you feel good with all the hard work I've done."
It was the 13th time a North Carolina player has won the award, which is tied with Duke for most in league history. It also marked the first time the program had won the award in consecutive seasons since Larry Miller in 1967 and '68.
Lawson - who declared for the NBA draft last year before returning to school - has always had the speed to blow by any defender while directing coach Roy Williams' fast-paced offense. But this year, Lawson has had an all-around game that made him almost impossible to stop.
The only question about him these days is his health. He played through an injury to his right big toe in Sunday's win against Duke. On Tuesday, Williams said Lawson's toe was badly swollen, making it unclear whether he'll be at full speed or unable to play at this week's ACC tournament in Atlanta.
Explaining his value to North Carolina can be as simple as this: his two worst performances of the season coincided with the Tar Heels' 0-2 league start.
"He's had a big-time year," Williams said. "If you throw out those first two games, his stats are just really off-the-charts impressive. He's gotten better in every phase of the game and made some big-time, big-time shots."
He ranked among the league leaders in scoring (15.9 points), steals (2.0) and field-goal percentage (53.8 percent) while ranking first in assists at 6.5 per game. He's also shooting nearly 47 percent from 3-point range. All those numbers are the best of his career.
But the most impressive part of his season has been the way he's taken over late in several close games.
On Jan. 28, he took an inbounds pass with 3.2 seconds left, raced downcourt and swished a 3 for an 80-77 road win against Florida State. Lawson later scored 21 of his season-high 25 points after halftime to help the Tar Heels beat the Duke 101-87 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
In the next game, he scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half against Miami, including the game-sealing 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds left in the 69-65 win.
On Sunday, Lawson finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in a 79-71 win against the Blue Devils that secured the ACC regular-season crown.
"He's been a leader for us," senior Danny Green said. "He's what makes us go. We go as far as he goes, and the games that he's struggled, we've struggled. But he's done a great job and that's why I think our team is doing so well."
For Lawson, much of the improvement began not with success, but with probably the worst moment of his college career: the one-sided loss to Kansas in last year's Final Four. He has watched the game film several times and said he was way too passive instead of aggressively attacking the basket.
The player that wore the No. 5 jersey that night looks nothing like the guy who has North Carolina back at No. 1 in the country a year later.
"I really took a lot from that and it helped me out this year," Lawson said. "I don't know who I was that night. Right now, I don't recognize him - and hopefully he doesn't come back anytime soon."
PLAYER OF THE YEAR