Michigan State and Notre Dame earned berths in Sunday's Mideast Regional final of the NCAA tournament tonight in Market Square Arena.
In a game expected to be close Michigan State rode Earvin (Magic) Johnson's 24 points and Greg Kelser's all-round performance to an 87-71 bolwout of bewildered Louisiana State.
With 11 minutes remaining, the MSU cheering section began chanting "Sunday, Sunday!" yearning for the end of a contest that was never in question after the first five minutes.
In the first game, Notre Dame mentor Digger Phelps, who was expected to be coaching a mismatch, told his cheering section to cease chanting, "We're No. 1," in the waning minutes of the Irish's 79-71 win over determined Toledo.
Notre Dame, ranked fourth nationally, was dealt a scare by the Mid-American Conference cochampions, who chopped what had been a 10-point halftime deficit to 62-61 with 4:44 remaining.
The Rockets (22-8) stayed in the game with their aggressive defense against the taller, stronger Irish and and amazing unwillingness to quit. But when the time came to make a run, their hands were full of rocks.
While Toledo missed its next five shots (including an air ball from 15 feet and two errant layups) Notre Dame put the game away with eight straight points for a 70-61 lead with 1:16 left.
Now 24-5, Notre Dame was paced by All-America Kelly Tripucka's 24 points, including eight of from the foul line. Six-foot-11 center Bill Laimbeer clogged the middle and blocked three shots to foil the Rockets' patient offense.
Notre Dame held a 23-9 advantage at the foul line and 34-28 edge on the boards.
The sellout crowd was charmed by the undersdogs' gutty performance.
"They're the toughest players we've ever faced," said Notre Dame guard Bill Hanzlik, who scored 14 points.
For LSU (finishing at 23-6) the game was over before it began, with the Tigers missing their two best players: leading scorer DeWayne Scales, suspended by Coach Dale Brown for dealing with an agent, and fellow starting forward Durand Macklin, who broke a foot earlier in the season.
LSU led, 5-2, when Michigan State ran off the first of many streaks to put the game out of reach at 36-19 at the half.
The game was turned around for good when MSU's "other" All-America, Greg Kelser, single-handedly changed the 5-2 deficit to a 7-5 lead with a free throw and two quick steals that he converted into dunks.
Things got only worse for the Tigers, who had 15 turnovers in the first half and, after an 18-2 burst put MSU up 33-13 with 3:11 remaining, the Spartan crowd began yelling, "Thirteen points!"
Brown was assessed one technical foul in that streak and was gently restrained from officials as he walked to the locker room at the half. Incredibly, there was more bad news for LSU, even before the second half started. Another technical was called, this one on the team trainer, during halftime for a comment to the official.
Obviously frustrated, LSU forward Lionel Green at the one point blocked a Johnson shot in the lane and said to him, "You come in here and I'm going to smack it. Don't come back."
Johnson replied, "I be back and back and back. You're going to have to smack and smack and smack."
Johnson hit only five of 16 shots from the floor but from the free-throw line connected on 14 of 15 attempts for the 23-6 Big Ten trichampions.
MSU was missing starting center Jay Vincent but reserve Ron Charles filled in with ease, scoring 18 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
LSU center Rick Mattick, a lumbering 7-footer, picked up three fouls in the first four minutes and foiled LSU's game plan to go to the four corners.