Michigan State's magic passer and angry dunker embarrassed old Notre Dame in its home state today.
Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Greg Kelser -- the slam man -- teamed up on eight stunning alley-oop dunks, scored a combined 53 points and ran bigger, stronger, deeper Notre Dame out of the Mideast Regional basketball championship game, 80-68, in Market Square Arena.
Third-ranked Michigan State, which has won its NCAA tournament games by 31, 16 and 12 points, next touches down at Salt Lake City to play Pennsylvania on Saturday in the national semifinals. For MSU, it is its first final-four appearance since 1957.
The fourth-ranked Irish (24-6) never led today and tied only twice, the last at 6-6 with 7:31 elapsed.
But by then the game was already over, at least according to Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps, who was not alone.
"The very first play set the pace for the game," said Phelps, referring to Mike Brkovich's stuff three seconds after the opening tip. "We were caught flatfooted."
That dunk was an awesome how-do-you-do, Kelser tipping the ball to Johnson, who flicked it to Brkovich. He streaked in for the jam shot before Notre Dame had time to gasp.
Then, on Notre Dame's first trip upcourt, MSU guard Terry Donnelly stole the ball.
"Donnelly got that steal," said Phelps. "And it was an avalanche from there."
The Irish trailed, 34-23, at the half and never drew closer than seven points thereafter.
Notre Dame had some offensive breakdowns in the first half (four of the starting five shot two of 15 around the Spartans' two-three matchup zone). And Notre Dame's inability to contain the leaping Kelser and darting Johnson kept the Irish subjugated. Kelser, a 6-foot-7 senior who is MSU's career scoring and rebounding leader, amassed 34 points and took 13 rebounds.
Notre Dame decided early not to try to force the ball inside, where three Spartans would collapse on it. They were content to let Tracy Jackson (19 points), Bill Hanzlik (19 points) and Rich Branning (four of 14) fire away from outside.
"It wasn't our offense that broke down," Phelps said. "It was giving up those easy baskets.We tried to make adjustments, and MSU just blew it (the lead) out to 11."
Leading 11-8, Michigan State established its dominance with a 10-6 streak. Featuring four Kelser dunks off Johnson lead passes for a 21-14 lead.
The ferocious slams locked momentum so safely on the Spartan side that there was never a serious Notre Dame challenge.
Notre Dame cut its deficit to seven three times in the second half, pulling to 48-41 with 12:15 left.
But Johnson quickly sent the Spartans back up by 13, fueling an 8-2 streak with a scoring lob to Kelser, two free throws and a 15-footer from the circle. During this spree, Notre Dame's best players, Kelly Tripucka and Hanzlik, each picked up a fourth foul, and it was clearly MSU's game from then on.
Notre Dame also got few, if any, breaks from the officials, but Phelps said, "Once you get momentum, certain things happen your way. We didn't get momentum. Give Michigan State credit for that."
"You can't say the referees were a big factor in us losing," said Jackson, the graduate of Paint Branch High in Montgomery County, Md., who came off the bench early and swished five goals in a long-range shooting streak.
It was more a case of too much Johnson and Kelser.
Johnson had 19 points and a staggering gering 13 assists, upping his season total to 253.
Kelser, voted the most outstanding player of the regional tournament, equaled his season high with his 34 points. He also enjoyed some pregame inspiration from Johnson.
"I told him David Greenwood (of UCLA) was a better dunker," said Johnson. "So he came out to prove himself. I just looooooove to see (Kelser) dunk. I get so fired up when he goes up, because he hangs sooooo long.
It's like a cartoon to me. I feel so good I want to jump up and down 20 times."
Spinning their wheels at 4-4 near the midpoint of the Big Ten Conference race, the quick Spartans got rolling and now have improved their overall mark to 24-6. They lost by three points last year in the Mideast to eventual NCAA champion Kentucky.
Today, Coach Jud Heathcote said, was "the best we have played since the tourney started. I feel you're as good as your last game, so today we're a very, very good basketball team."
Johnson said the lopsided outcome, certainly a surprise since Notre dame suffered its previous five defeats by a total of 17 points, was simply the result of a "run-at-them" game plan.
It was barely noticeable that the Spartans were able to use bulky starting center Jay Vincent only 2 1/2 minutes because of an injury, meaning the tallest MSU player on the courtwas the 6-foot-8 Johnson, a guard.Notre Dame's front line stood 6-7, 6-9 and 6-11.
"We were never struggling," said Johnson, wearing a cut-down net over one shoulder and hugging a teammate with each arm. "Our game plan was to come at them, come at them hard, come at them all the time. Keep pressing them. When we're up 11, try to get up by 20.
"This was up-and-down-the-court basketball And when it is up and down, Michigan State is at its best. With me, Greg, Terry (Donnelly) and the fellas -- hey you're in trouble."
Notre Dame knows.