Spartans storm into another Sweet 16
Charlotte, N.C. – Travis Trice got an interesting text message on Sunday morning.
Just hours before Michigan State was to play Virginia in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, former Spartan and current standout with the Golden State Warriors Draymond Green sent a one-sentence piece of advice to his former teammate.
"Don't let this be your last game," Trice recalled on Sunday afternoon. "And I texted him back and said, 'I won't.' But that was our mindset coming in. We knew they were a great team, we had to jump out on them early."
Michigan State did just that. In fact, Trice did just that, scoring 13 of the Spartans' first 15 points as the No. 7 seed upset No. 2 Virginia, 60-54, at Time Warner Cable Arena.
It was the second straight season Michigan State eliminated Virginia after beating the Cavaliers in the Sweet 16 last year. It is also the fourth straight season Michigan State has advanced to the Sweet 16 and its seventh appearance in the last eight years. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has now taken the Spartans to 13 Sweet 16s in the last 18 years.
Michigan State (25-11) will play Oklahoma at 10:07 p.m. Friday in Syracuse, N.Y. The Sooners defeated Dayton, 72-66, on Sunday night to advance to the Sweet 16.
"I can't tell you how proud and excited I am for these guys," Izzo said. "Especially the seniors, juniors, the guys that have been through a lot. I'm not sure of all the great teams we've had, I've ever had one in a day that changed what we do on a game plan and execute it as well as they did.
"I'm just really proud of this team. I don't use that word lightly when I speak and I am."
Fellow senior Branden Dawson joined Trice in having a big day. He scored 15, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots. His five straight points early in the second half helped thwart a Virginia surge as a two-point lead grew to 10.
But none of it would have been possible without the play of Trice, a senior guard who has been nearly unstoppable for the last three weeks. He finished with 23, but after his quick start, Virginia held him in check.
But late in the second half, after the Cavaliers had cut the Spartans' margin to 49-44, Trice hit his biggest shot of the game. With the shot clock winding down, he waived off a screen from Matt Costello, instead rising up over Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon for a deep 3-pointer and a 52-44 lead with 2:51 to play.
"He couldn't play any better defense," Trice said. "But I made up my mind I had to take the shot. I was blessed to hit it."
Virginia coach Tony Bennett knew stopping Michigan State's big three of Trice, Dawson and Denzel Valentine was key, but the Cavaliers only succeeded with Valentine, who scored just four points and was in foul trouble all game.
"He's complete, he can score at all three levels," Bennett said of Trice. "Off the drive, off the pull-up or deep 3s. It was a dagger 3, the one he hit at the end of the shot clock. It looked like it was an NBA 3. We should have known that, we saw it against Belmont most of the game but he drilled one. And again, like Dawson, those two, they were the deal."
After Trice's triple, Michigan State made 8-of-12 free throws in the final two minutes to put the game away.
Anthony Gill scored 11 for Virginia (30-4) while Darion Atkins scored 10. The Cavaliers' top scorers were held in check as Brogdon scored nine and Justin Anderson was held to eight.
Bennett walked away impressed, especially considering Michigan State lost Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling from the team that knocked off the Cavaliers a year ago.
"They're playing good ball," Bennett said. "Last year with Harris and Payne they had probably a couple more big-play guys that could just go get stuff. They had guys with that experience but they understand who they are, they're very clear. It's Dawson's team, it's Trice's team, you can see that, and Valentine. Those guys have a ton of experience. They're not quite as explosive offensively but very sound, very tough, know where they've got to go to get stuff."
And now they're going to get another shot at the Sweet 16 and a chance to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2010.
"We trust one another and the sky's the limit for us," Dawson said. "I think coming to this tournament being a 7 seed it's definitely us-against-the-world type of mentality for all of us. We keep playing the way we're playing, we'll definitely make a good run."