The nation’s basketball-fan-in-chief appeared to enjoy the first college hoops game on an active aircraft carrier.
President Barack Obama sat courtside and watched No. 1 North Carolina beat Michigan State 67-55 on Friday night in the Carrier Classic on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson.
Harrison Barnes scored 17 points and John Henson had 12 points and a career-high nine blocked shots as the Tar Heels put their size advantage to good use. Michigan State’s Draymond Green had a career-high 18 rebounds.
Obama watched intently, chatted with wife Michelle and service members seated near him, and at one point appeared to check his BlackBerry. When the game ended, he applauded and then shook hands with coaches Roy Williams and Tom Izzo.
”He said, `Good luck.’ I told him, `Good luck.’ He’s got some pretty important things coming up in the next year, also,” said Williams, the Tar Heels’ coach.
Williams said it was nice that there wasn’t a crisis that kept Obama away.
”I like a president who loves sports, loves athletics, loves college basketball,” Williams said. ”Don’t take this wrong and I’m not being disrespectful, but he’s a basketball junkie.”
Said Izzo: ”I thanked him. He thanked us. We’re all trying to thank somebody. That damn military starts thanking you, and it’s killing me because they do so much for us and they’re thanking us. They’re the most humble group I’ve ever met.
”We played the No. 1 team in the country and in front of the No. 1 team in the world,” the Michigan State coach added.
Both coaches said the Carrier Classic worked.
”I absolutely loved it,” Williams said. ”We had some scary moments. We were worried about the weather for the last week, but it worked and I thought it was great.”
Izzo ”absolutely loved it. The military was so good on this whole deal, from when we got here to when we’re leaving. I thought it was awesome,” he said.
The Carl Vinson conducted Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea after he was killed by Navy SEALs in a raid ordered by Obama.
Fitting with the Veterans Day theme, the Tar Heels and Spartans had U.S.A. rather than their names on the back of their jerseys, which had a camouflage design. At dusk, the game was paused for the lowering of the American flag. When the game ended, the players gave their jerseys to servicemen.
In a nod to the troops, Williams and his staff wore combat boots and cargo pants.
The Carrier Classic featured slam dunks and fast breaks on a court plopped down where jet fighters normally scream into flight.
”It took a while, but at some point you didn’t even realize you were outside until the play slowed down,” Henson said. ”It was fun. My excuse was sometimes I felt like the boat moved a little bit when I shot,” Henson joked. ”That’s why I missed.”
North Carolina led by double digits from late in the first half on, including 36-25 after Kendall Marshall made two free throws with 44.8 seconds left before halftime.
This game turned out as have recent matchups between the schools. North Carolina has beaten Michigan State six straight times, including in the 2009 national championship game.
The Tar Heels’ biggest lead was 59-38 with 10:42 left before Michigan State closed within 10 points with 5:43 left.
Dexter Strickland had 10 points for North Carolina.
Green scored 13 points and had an unbelievable game on the boards, including 11 defensive rebounds. Michigan State outrebounded the Tar Heels 49-34 but made only 2 of 20 3-pointers.
Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne scored 10 points each for the Spartans.
Green said it was great getting to play in front of the president.
”That was phenomenal,” he said. ”It’s not every day anyone gets to do that.”