NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Recap - Michigan State vs Tennessee
(5) Michigan State 70, (6) Tennessee 69
The Izzone - known as the devoted student cheering section at Michigan State basketball games - will be in the zone at least one more time in this 2010 season.
Spartan diehards will be able to yell for their hardwood heroes in Indianapolis. In a very big domed stadium. On the first weekend of April.
Sounds about right.
For the sixth time in twelve years, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is headed to the NCAA Final Four. In the surest sign that winter barrenness is turning into the greenery of spring, the inimitable Izzo has once again taken the Green and White of Sparty to college basketball's biggest weekend.
Over the last dozen years, Tom Izzo has been to exactly half of the Final Fours. For some guys, making the Final Four is a career achievement. For Izzo, he can guarantee any recruits that they will be playing in a Final Four - every player that has been at MSU for four years under Izzo has done just that.
This Final Four just might be his most impressive one of all.
Kalin Lucas, the star, hasn't been playing over the past two games, and he missed the (photo) finish of MSU's second-round NCAA Tournament game against Maryland. Lucas tore his achilles against the Terps, rendering him out for the rest of the season. Delvon Roe is playing on sheer determination, as he has a torn meniscus in his knee. Chris Allen is hobbled by a sprained arch in his foot. Despite all of that, the Spartans just knocked off a very good basketball team in a great - not good, great - game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Both teams came out chucking, and came out on fire. They scored on the first 13 possessions of the game. The score was tied at 16 at the under-16 media timeout. The two teams combined to hit their first eight threes.
However, as you might expect in a game of this magnitude, the Spartans' game against the Tennessee Volunteers quickly devolved into a more defensive affair.
This clamorous contest saw a grand total of 26 seconds of gameplay in which the score was not a one- or two-possession game. After his second dunk in as many possessions, Tennessee's J.P. Prince tried to draw a charge twice in the span of three seconds, picking up a blocking foul both times and heading to the bench with 16:21 remaining and the Vols holding a 47-42 lead.
The Spartans immediately responded, using a 17-4 run to take a 59-51 lead with 11:28 left in the game. That lead didn't last, however, as Prince tied the game with just under four minutes left at 66. MSU's Durrell Summers - who scored 21 points and was named the region's Most Outstanding Player (MOP) - knocked down a three with 2:52 left to break the tie. Tennessee's Brian Williams answered with an offensive rebound and a dunk with 2:12 left, making the score 69-68 in favor of Michigan State.
And then came the most suspenseful sequences at the end of this sensational showdown.
No one scored after the Williams putback dunk until UT's Scotty Hopson went to the line with 12 seconds left. He hit the first, but missed the second, tying the game.
At the other end, Tennessee lost track of Michigan State's Raymar Morgan, who was fouled by Prince on a four-foot shot attempt with 1.8 seconds left. Morgan - who received a terrific pass from unsung Spartan hero Draymond Green, hit the first shot to give Michigan State the lead before missing the second on purpose.
The intentional miss was a wise play. Even though only two tenths of a second melted off the clock, the Vols were in no position to score a two-point basket. Not with 1.6 seconds remaining and all 94 feet needing to be covered. The only shot UT was likely to get was a three, so MSU gained nothing by acquiring a two-point lead. It was far more valuable to miss the shot, which forced Tennessee and coach Bruce Pearl to call a timeout and - this is the part CBS commentators and other analysts missed - force the Vols to perform a stationary inbounds pass. After a made basket or foul shot, an inbounder can run the baseline and gain a much better passing angle. After anything other than a made shot, the inbounder can only move backwards, but not side to side on the baseline. Morgan's miss robbed the Vols of needed flexibility on their final play, and that's why Tom Izzo is such a master of the late-March pressure cooker.
Tennessee missed its desperation halfcourt heave at the final horn, and when the ball fell 12 feet short of the basket (Prince juggled the ball and never had a good grip on it), Sparty - thanks to its amazingly gifted coach - had just reminded folks that in college basketball, it actually IS easy being Green.
Michigan State will play the hometown Butler Bulldogs on Saturday evening in Indianapolis. Butler will be playing just five miles from its actual campus location, so it's odd that reports are saying that MSU - as the higher-rated No. 5 seed (both teams were fifth seeds in the NCAA Tournament) - will wear the home whites in the first national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium. Tip time is 6:07 p.m. Eastern.