'They hurt us': Texas Tech defense smothers Michigan State in Final Four semifinal
Minneapolis — The NCAA Tournament can bring the highest highs and the lowest lows, from cutting down nets to wiping away tears.
Michigan State experienced them all in a three-week run, beating top-seeded Duke last week to reach the Final Four only to head to the final weekend of the season and run smack into the best defensive team in the nation.
It was more than the Spartans could solve, as the momentum came screeching to a halt Saturday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. Michigan State seemed to be the favorite for many people, but on the game’s biggest stage the Spartans couldn’t find any room against Texas Tech.
The Spartans shot just 31.9 percent and turned the ball over 11 times as Texas Tech took off to begin the second half and held on for a 61-51 victory Saturday in front of 72,711 fans to advance to the national championship game on Monday against Virginia.
“We just kind of got stagnant and didn't move things,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I thought it really hurt us in the first half when Aaron Henry and Nick Ward — we planned on punching it in — and they both got in foul trouble, and that kind of really, really hurt us. We gave up some defensive things.
“But it doesn't diminish on the incredible season these guys have had. Probably in a day I'll be able to sit back and look at the incredible journey and the incredible run. It's just disappointing in some way. … So incredible run, hat's off to a very, very good Texas Tech team and very well coached. They hurt us tonight and deserved to win the game.”
It was the first trip for Michigan State (32-7) to the Final Four since 2015, and like the last two trips, it failed to win a game as it still hasn’t reached the title game since 2009 when the Spartans lost to North Carolina at Ford Field in Detroit. Izzo has coached in 10 Final Four games and is now 3-7.
The 51 points were the fewest the Spartans scored all season as Cassius Winston scored 16 but was just 4-for-16 shooting and was bothered all game by the Texas Tech defense. Matt McQuaid added 12 points with nine coming in the first half, while Aaron Henry had 11.
“It was right about what we expected,” Winston said of Texas Tech’s defense. “We were prepared. They were good at it. They got their hands on a lot of balls. We could have been a lot better, though. I think part of it was us being casual with the basketball or not being strong enough, not executing well enough. We could have done a better job on that part, but their defense was really good also.”
Matt Mooney was the catalyst for Texas Tech (31-6), scoring 22, including 13 in the second half as the Red Raiders made nine of their first 11 shots in the second half to start to pull away. Jarrett Culver scored just 10, but he had six in a row for Texas Tech after Michigan State pulled to within one with 2:54 to play.
The Red Raiders, who are playing in the first Final Four, now get a shot at their first national championship.
“Why not us?” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said when asked about his team’s improbable run. “We've got good players. We've got a great university. We play in arguably the best league in the country. We won the Big 12 regular season title. We're a good team. We've got good players.
“Yeah, I think we deserve to be here, as do a lot of other teams. You've got to get fortunate, but we did. I'm looking forward to coaching these guys on Monday night.”
Michigan State struggled to find any room on offense in the first half, turning the ball over seven times and shooting 7-for-23 (.304). McQuaid scored nine quick points as the Spartans took a 16-11 lead.
But an 8-0 run from Texas Tech along with a scoring drought of 6:33 for Michigan State, helped give the Red Raiders a 23-18 lead with just more than two minutes left in the first half. A 3-pointer from Winston cut the deficit to two and Xavier Tillman couldn’t convert on a shot from the block in the final seconds as Texas Tech took a 23-21 lead into the locker room.
“It was tough because we’re not used to a team forcing us one way and having to counter for that force,” Tillman said. “They didn’t let us go middle, but at the same time, they didn’t just give us a layup. If somebody was there for a charge or if somebody was there to block a shot, it was just tough because you’d think you have them but then they would come back with a counter move and get a block or a turnover or something like that.
“They had great ball pressure, from the bigs to the guards. They were active, had good hands, the last play of the game, that big ripped the ball from me, so they just had great ball pressure.”
While Michigan State did not get its offense going, the defense was solid, limiting Texas Tech to 8-for-26 shooting while the Spartans outrebounded the Red Raiders, 20-16. However, Michigan State’s three big men — Tillman, Kenny Goins and Nick Ward – didn’t score a point in the first half while Goins didn’t take a shot.
Michigan State’s offensive woes continued in the second half while Texas Tech started to find a groove, hitting nine of its first 11 shots and going 3-for-3 on 3-pointers as two straight from Mooney gave the Red Raiders a 45-33 lead with 11:14 to play.
Texas Tech maintained its 12-point lead until Michigan State started to chip away, pulling within 52-47 with 5:38 to play on a pair of Tillman free throws. But Winston misfired on a 3-pointer and Ward missed the front end of a one-and-one to keep the margin at five.
Freshman Aaron Henry then scored four in a row to pull Michigan State within one, but Culver hit a runner with 2:29 to play to give Texas Tech a 54-51 lead and McQuaid missed an open 3-pointer that would have tied the game. The Spartans followed with a stop, but Tillman turned the ball over and after Culver split a pair of free throws, he nailed a deep 3-pointer with 58 seconds to play to put the game away.
“That's how you win games, you know. You make plays. They made some plays,” Izzo said. “We didn't make some plays. We missed some shots. Hurt to have McQuaid out of there, even for a couple minutes. But they -- listen, they earned it. They deserved it. Give my guys credit.
“We didn't quit, and we came back, but it wasn't really a game that I felt we were ever out of, but it wasn't really a game … that I felt comfortable in it. Just the way, the nature they played, it was impressive.”