MSU's defense dazzles, shuts down Virginia

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Charlotte, N.C. — Entering Sunday's NCAA Tournament game between Michigan State and Virginia, there was one dominant theme — the Spartans would have trouble scoring against the Cavaliers' defense.

It was a legitimate storyline considering Virginia entered the game allowing just more than 51 points a game, the best in the nation.

But what was being overlooked was Michigan State is no slouch on defense, either. In fact, the Spartans were allowing 63.4 points a game and were third in the Big Ten this season, allowing opponents to shoot just 39.8 percent from the field.

That defense proved to be vital in Michigan State's 60-54 victory, one that sent the Spartans to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16. Virginia shot just 29.8 percent from the field and was just 2-for-17 from 3-point range, its second 3-pointer coming in the final seconds with the game no longer in doubt.

"I thought offensively we were just a little out of rhythm and it's hard to not gun threes when you don't see one go through the net," said Malcolm Brogdon, who scored nine points but came into the game averaging 14.2. "We just struggled in that way. Michigan State played good defense."

The 54 points allowed were the fewest MSU allowed since Illinois scored 53 on Feb. 22 and the 29.8 percent shooting was also the lowest since Illinois shot 28.8 percent. It was the seventh time this season the Spartans held a team to less than 30 percent from the field.

And it happened on Sunday because the Spartans changed the way they played defense. That change occurred from the time Michigan State finished its game against Georgia on Friday and took the floor on Sunday.

"We used our bigs in the middle and we just kind of changed what we do and we did it in a day and a half," Izzo said. "We did some things against Wisconsin where we changed how we played. Some guys are just concept guys that do the same thing and I respect that because we're just not quite as talented as we've normally been, so we're always cheating and trying to find a way to get an edge. Give my staff a lot of credit, they sat down and did it."

It created a defense that was much like the one Virginia plays, but it was a bit more effective as it took the Cavaliers out of rhythm.

"Some of it we just missed some shots but they were in position and they made you earn," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "When we did get the open looks we didn't capitalize. A couple times we probably forced and didn't screen it well enough or move it well enough. But you are going to have to outlast them.

"That's how our game was against them last year. We probably didn't have quite the outside attack as last year, but it's just a physical, hard game and there's not a lot of easy stuff there and that was the case again."

In time for tipoff

On Saturday night, Travis Trice Sr. was busy coaching Huber Heights Wayne (Ohio) to a victory in the Ohio high school state playoffs. It catapulted his team into the final four in Division 1.

Travis Trice II was sure his dad wouldn't be able to make it to Charlotte for Michigan State's game Sunday against Virginia. Then he sent a FaceTime request to his dad this morning and noticed he wasn't at home.

Trice's dad made the journey and was at Time Warner Cable Arena to see his oldest son score 23 points to lead the Spartans into the Sweet 16.

"I didn't know until 10 this morning," Trice said. "For him to leave at 1 in the morning and still be here means a lot."

Slam dunks

Michigan State was outrebounded on Sunday as Virginia pulled down 39 rebounds to 32 for the Spartans. But the alarming number was the fact Michigan State allowed 18 offensive rebounds.

It is the most the Spartans have allowed all season as the size of the Cavaliers was difficult for the Spartans to handle. But Virginia only managed to turn the 18 offensive rebounds into 17 points.

"You look at our offensive rebounds, 18 of them," Bennett said. "We got some in there. We just had trouble finishing. It's not like they're huge."

… Michigan State struggled overall from the free-throw line, hitting 20-of-33. But in the final minutes, the Spartans were solid again, making 8 of the final 12 to seal the victory.

… MSU improved to 15-4 in the round of 32 while Izzo is 13-1.

Branden Dawson scored in double figures for the fifth straight game. MSU is 5-0 in NCAA Tournament games when he scores 10 or more points.