Final Four 2010 to feature Michigan State after win over Tennessee
Monday, March 29, 2010
ST. LOUIS -- Among all the other signs -- the grins, the T-shirts and the hats with the single strand of netting looped through the back -- the victors Sunday were identifiable by the humor with which they relived a one-point game that decided the Midwest Region.
The easiest one to pick out was Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, who began his postgame news conference with what was meant as a lighthearted crack at his conference's detractors, yet ended up being a more pointed statement on his own success.
"I'm proud to represent Michigan State," Izzo said after the fifth-seeded Spartans' 70-69 win over No. 6 Tennessee in the region final. "And I'm proud to represent the Big Ten, that conference that sometimes gets maligned, but always seems to have teams in the Final Four."
Since Izzo took over at Michigan State 15 years ago, most of those Big Ten teams playing in college basketball's final weekend have been his. The Spartans' win over the Volunteers gave Michigan State its sixth Final Four appearance in the past 12 years and its second in as many seasons.
Taking the lead from their coach, the Spartans' players provided some light analysis on the closing sequence of an affair that was tightly contested throughout.
With 28.9 seconds to play and Michigan State up one, Spartans point guard Korie Lucious missed the front end of a one-and-one.
There were times Sunday afternoon when Lucious appeared overwhelmed by the moment and the responsibilities laid on the shoulders of his 5-foot-11 frame. Starting in place of first team all-Big Ten guard Kalin Lucas, who is out for the season with a torn left Achilles' tendon, Lucious tallied four assists and five turnovers and acknowledged he was "worn down" by Tennessee's constant pressure.
But there also were times when Lucious played with the poise and gamesmanship Izzo said he needs out of a point guard. When Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson approached the free throw line with 11.2 seconds remaining and a chance to put the Volunteers in front, Lucious -- who also recorded eight points and five steals -- sauntered up and told Hopson he needed him to miss at least one, but preferably both, of his foul shots.
Hopson made the first free throw to tie the score at 69, and Michigan State called a timeout. As he walked back onto the court, Lucious approached Hopson again and said he voiced the same sentiment as before.
"He missed, thank God," Lucious said. "And we just tried to make a play when we got the ball."
During the timeout, sophomore forward Draymond Green approached his coach along the sideline.
"I told Coach, '[Isolate] me up top and just get me the ball and let me break 'em down,' " Green said. "And I don't think he felt quite confident with that, so he drew up another play. He told me if I get the ball, just be solid and make something happen."
On the ensuing play, Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan waved his hands and received a pass from Green in the post. Morgan was fouled by Tennessee guard J.P. Prince as he went up for a shot with 1.8 seconds left on the clock. Morgan, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, made the first free throw to put the Spartans ahead by one.
After both teams called timeout, Prince walked up to a courtside radio broadcast crew and said: "Did it look like I fouled him on the replay? I don't think so."
Morgan intentionally missed his second free throw attempt, and Tennessee immediately called a timeout with 1.6 seconds left. Prince's ensuing half-court heave never reached the rim.
"It was just a heads-up play by Raymar to wave his hands," Green said, remaining in a comical mood. "I saw him, but if he wouldn't have his hands, I probably would have shot the ball."