MSU beats Oklahoma with second-half surge
Syracuse, N.Y. — A beauty it was not, but the end result on Friday was exactly what Michigan State was looking for — a chance to, once again, play for a spot in the Final Four.
Michigan State trailed by 10 in the first half but rallied in the second behind the play of its three best players, then hit late free throws to knock off No. 3 Oklahoma, 62-58, in the East Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament that ended in the early morning hours of Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
The win sends Michigan State to its second straight Elite Eight, where it will take on No. 4 Louisville at 2:20 p.m. on Sunday.
The Spartans (26-11) improved to 13-6 all-time in the regional semifinals and 9-4 under coach Tom Izzo.
Travis Trice scored 24 for Michigan State while Denzel Valentine shook off a rough first half to score 18 and grab a big offensive rebound in the final minute. Branden Dawson scored six but had 11 rebounds.
Buddy Hield scored 18 for Oklahoma (24-11) while TaShawn Thomas added 16.
"Get to work another day, and I can't tell you how excited that makes me," Izzo said. "Each one of these guys did some key things. Travis was unbelievable all night, Zel I thought did a hell of a job because he had to guard Buddy and still had to make shots. Branden struggled in the first half but had nine boards and in the scone half he hit three big buckets, all important ones.
"So as it should be in the NCAA Tournament, your juniors and seniors need to come through and they should. So I'm just tickled to death to still be playing."
Michigan State flirted with the lead in the second half after tying the score at 39 with 14:32 to play on a floater in the lane from Valentine. But the next four trips came up empty, including a pair of missed free throws from Matt Costello, and OU took advantage.
The Spartans finally broke through for their first lead at 44-42 when Dawson hit a short jumper with 9:26 to play. But the Sooners came back with a pair of free throws from Hield to tie it and went ahead, 45-44, on a free throw from Cousins with 7:52 left.
Dawson then hit a jumper to put MSU up 46-45 but Oklahoma answered with a layup from Thomas. Costello then scored on a putback of his own miss and after a stop, Valentine hit a 3-pointer in transition to give Michigan State a 51-47 lead with 6:16 left.
"Those shots I made, they were big," Dawson said. "I saw the double-team didn't come and coach has been talking to me about making a move all year. So I made my move and made a good shot."
After Ryan Spangler hit two free throws Trice nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to give MSU a 54-49 lead but Thomas answered with a pair of free throws to trim the lead to 54-51 with 4:43 left.
Gavin Schilling went to the line with 3:43 to play and missed both free throws but after a stop, Trice hit a step-back jumper in the lane to make it 56-51. Thomas answered with two more free throws with 1:43 left to cut the margin back to three.
That's when things really got interesting as the Spartans were going to be forced ice the game at the line, even though they were 3-for-10 at that point.
Trice went to the line for a one-and-one with 1:19 to play and hit both but Hield nailed a 3-pointer after OU got an offensive rebound to make it 58-56 with 1:01 left.
After Valentine grabbed a huge offensive rebound, he was fouled and nailed two free throws. Thomas then scored on a put-back, but Trice hit two more free throws to put the game away as Michigan State hit its last six from the line.
"I'm just thinking, knock them down," Trice said. "I just want to win the game. That's all."
Michigan State opened the first 12 minutes of the game hitting just six of 22 shots while Oklahoma was efficient, making its first five shots and scored on its first six possessions, eventually opening a 23-13 lead with 8:56 left in the first half.
Michigan State bounced back and used an 8-2 run to trim the Oklahoma lead to 25-21, but the Sooners scored the next six to push the margin back to double digits at 31-21 with 3:30 left in the first half. Valentine finally got a shot to fall, hitting a 3-pointer to make it 31-24. Forbes followed with another 3-pointer to make it 31-27.
However, the teams each went scoreless over final 2:36 with Oklahoma's drought lasting 3:33 leading to the 31-27 score at halftime.
"It was a really hard-fought game," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. "One that was really tough to lose, but credit Michigan State for doing what it needed down the stretch."
Michigan State now gets another crack to reach the Final Four that eluded it last year when it lost to eventual national champion Connecticut and ended a streak of four-year players under Izzo reaching at least one Final Four.
Trice and Valentine have talked all year about starting a new streak, and now they are one game away.
"I knew that streak was meant to be broken," Izzo said. "It didn't hurt me as much but I didn't realize the impact on Travis and Zel. So it's another chance to maybe restart another run. … This team, if we could win another game — I hate to say it after winning a national championship, but it might be one of my favorite banners ever being hung from those rafters."
That is still one game away. But Michigan State is happy to take another crack.