Tulsa, Okla. — It's been 31 years since Michigan State and Kansas met in the Midwest Regional semifinal game at Kemper Arena in Kansas City and a stalled clock played a significant role in Kansas’ 96-86 overtime victory.
On Saturday, as the teams prepared to square off in the second round of the Midwest Region Sunday at the BOK Center, the topic came up again. Both Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Kansas coach Bill Self were assistants for that game.
Izzo was the one hollering at Jud Heathcote that for 15 seconds, the clock failed to move as Michigan State led by four with 2:21 to play. Self was an assistant for the Jayhawks, but was behind the basket and not on the bench.
Eventually, everyone noticed the clock wasn’t moving, thanks in large part to Heathcote going to the scorer and pounding his fist on the table. The game resumed with no adjustment to the clock and with nine seconds to play, Kansas tied the game and sent it to overtime.
Heathcote has long contended the game should have been over at that point, and it he still hasn’t forgotten about it.
“Clocks and Kansas, baby,” Izzo said. “I talked to Jud last night he said, ‘Make sure those clocks are running.’ So, I’ll probably have one of my assistants check on the clock.”
That wasn’t the only clock issue Michigan State had in a tournament game. In 1990, the Spartans lost in the Sweet 16 to Georgia Tech in overtime. A Kenny Anderson shot at the buzzer sent the game to overtime, though later replays showed he did not get the shot off in time.
Needless to say, both losses still sting in East Lansing.
As for the folks in Kansas, things are seen a little differently.
“Was there a clock issue in that game?” Self said with a laugh. “You know what, I was an assistant, but I was so far down in seniority that I was the assistant that sat in the end zone about 15 rows up. So I didn't make the bench during the NCAA Tournament in '86.
“But I don't really remember much about the clock. I think in Kansas they thought it was — there was no malfunction and everything was handled perfectly in Kansas, and I'm sure in the state of Michigan they thought totally otherwise. But I know it was controversial and it was an unbelievable win, obviously, for Kansas.”
No. 1 target
Following Michigan State’s victory over Miami on Friday, Izzo made it clear he was looking forward to getting a shot at Kansas, the fourth team this season the Spartans have played that spent time being the top-ranked team in the nation, along with Kentucky, Duke and Baylor.
The Spartans have faced their share of top teams and Izzo believes that will have them ready on Sunday.
“This will be the fourth team that at one time or another was ranked No. 1 in the country,” Izzo said. “And I think Arizona was as high as 3, and Wisconsin just beat one of the No. 1s and we beat them at the end of the year. So at least I think we've played — we can tell our team we've played against a lot of these teams that are ranked high. … So we’ve been battle-tested against the best.”
His players are just as eager to get a shot at beating a top seed.
“Definitely. In a tournament like this you want to play the best and beat the best,” guard Cassius Winston said. “You beat the best and make it all the way to the top it’s an even sweeter feeling knowing that you didn’t shy away. They’re a great team, it’s a great challenge and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
Izzo and Self have plenty of history as Izzo has a 7-5 mark against Self. Most of the matchups have come with Self at Kansas as Izzo holds a 4-2 advantage, winning three of the last four meetings, the last being at the Champions Classic in November 2015.
Self got the better of Izzo in three seasons at Illinois, winning three of five meetings, while Izzo and Michigan State won the only meeting when Self was the coach at Tulsa.
The last time the teams met in the NCAA Tournament was in the Sweet 16 in 2009. Michigan State rallied from a 13-point deficit to knock off the Jayhawks, 67-62. MSU beat top-seeded Louisville two days later to reach the Final Four in Detroit.
“Bill and I have been through a lot,” Izzo said. “He was at Illinois. We've played each other in the NCAA Tournament. We've played in the Tournament of Champions more than a couple times. I think there's great respect. We've been friends for a long time.
“When he was here at Tulsa, we played them over in (Hawaii) in a hell of a game and his team was good. I think that was the year his team went to the Sweet 16. So it's been a long history. Great respect for what he's done.”