Michigan State's final run doesn't take it over the finish line
Minneapolis — Late in the second half on Saturday night, Michigan State found itself in a spot it had been before more than once this season, down double-digits with things starting to unravel.
The Spartans were there against Michigan — twice — and managed to find a way to rally and beat their rival. They were down nine last week to Duke before rebounding to knock off the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and reach the Final Four.
So when Texas Tech was up, 50-38, with nine minutes left in the national semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium, Michigan State figured it was in position to make another comeback.
“That’s what we do,” sophomore Xavier Tillman said. “We’re a team of runs. We knew that run was coming. But then we had a bad play on a ball screen and couldn’t capitalize on offense.”
The run came, but it ground to a halt one point short of tying the score as Texas Tech made the plays down the stretch to hold on for a 61-51 victory to reach the national championship game on Monday night against Virginia.
“We work on four-minute games every day. It's something we believe in,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “We talk about there's 10 four-minute games in a college basketball game, and we want to try to win our share. So that's what we wanted. We wanted a chance to beat them in the last four minutes.
“So regardless of what had happened up to that, we just cleared our minds and showed some poise and just said, ‘Hey, this is all we could ever ask for. On the first day of practice, this is what we prayed for and hoped for, and here it is.’”
For a moment, though, it appeared another comeback was in the works. A 3-pointer from Tillman in the corner got it going before Cassius Winston scored the next four on free throws around a Texas Tech bucket. A pair of Tillman free throws got Michigan State within 52-47 followed by two free throws from Aaron Henry, then a drive and layup from the freshman.
It was 52-51 with 2:54 to play, but that’s when the Red Raiders answered.
Jarrett Culver hit a running jumper and Winston threw the ball away. The Spartans then got a stop and got an open 3-pointer for Matt McQuaid from the corner, but the ball rimmed out. A Tillman turnover came next and Texas Tech iced the victory on a Culver 3-pointer.
“Aaron Henry, my freshman, on that last play kicked that one to Matt McQuaid, and he had a wide-open shot, and it just didn't fall,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That's the nature of basketball. I talk more about we've got to be strong on the defensive end. We looked like we were fatiguing. Give them some credit on that, too. Culver hit one, but (Matt) Mooney hit two shots, one with a guy right in his face.
“That's how you win games, you know. You make plays. They made some plays. We didn't make some plays. We missed some shots.”
No knock on the Big Ten
Izzo has coached in eight Final Fours but his record dropped to 3-7 as the Big Ten national championship drought continued.
The last conference team to win the title was Michigan State in 2000, and while Izzo was defending the conference, he also admitted he hasn’t gotten enough wins in his trips.
“I think throughout this year our league top to bottom was the best, but I'm going to be prejudiced to our league,” Izzo said. “Somebody else will be prejudiced to theirs. The Big Ten — you know, you look at some things, like I said, we played 24 conference games this year. We played 20 against in the regular season, the most of any conference playing. We play in front of the most people.
“And we didn't get it done. I feel like I'm part of that issue, so I'll put on my big boy pants and say, yeah, you've been here eight times, you've won one, so that's part of the problem. But I'm going to keep knocking on the door. One of these days it's going to open.”
The 51 points was Michigan State’s lowest points total of the season; its previous low was 62 twice — a 62-44 home win over Ohio State on Feb. 17 and a 63-62 loss at Indiana on March 2.
The 51 points was also the fourth-fewest in Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament history; the fewest was 44 in a 57-44 loss to Louisville on March 22, 2012, in a regional semifinal.
… Michigan State’s 15 field goals were its fewest in a game this season; its previous low was 21 in the Feb. 17 game against Ohio State. It’s also the second-lowest in a game for the Spartans in their NCAA Tournament history (14 vs. Louisville in 2012).
… Michigan State tied its season-low with 14 points in the paint.
… Michigan State’s six assists were the fewest all season.