“Very seldom in my career have we got out-beat-up, and tonight was one of those nights,” said Tom Izzo, the 24th-season Michigan State coach whose team felled season-long sensation Duke in Washington before leaving its 2000 national championship coach at 2-6 in national semifinals.
Remaining in town will be the Red Raiders, a program with 17 tournament berths and 12 conference championships sprinkled across 94 basketball seasons, a program which had not reached a final eight until last year, and a program which just ensured that this particular March Madness will yield two first-time finalists for the first time since the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird, Michigan State-Indiana State final of 1979, and a first-time champion for the first time since Florida in 2006. Texas Tech forged these fresh realities as great waves of noise rained down from the quadrant of the stadium which, in many cases, had made the hard 16-hour journey from Lubbock.
“It was crazy in there,” said Matt Mooney, the graduate transfer from the South Dakota Coyotes, and before that Air Force, who rained in 22 points and earned Beard’s praise for his “courage,” epitomized in a 28-foot second-half shot one could see coming in his eyes.
As wagering-minded sorts prepared to bet the under for Monday night, or as Las Vegas prepared to set an under that could come up under all unders, the national championship game will come down to Virginia (34-3), No. 5 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to statistics guru Ken Pomeroy (after floating around No. 1 for much of the decade), and Texas Tech (31-6), which sits at merely No. 1.
“Why not us?” Beard said amid a multi-paragraph answer that doubled as a brief speech extolling his team and university, including, “History is something you respect and study, but when you’re in athletics and you’re in competition, it’s the team at hand.”
Even when Michigan State (32-7) whittled a 48-35 deficit to 52-47 with 5:38 remaining and 52-51 with 2:54 remaining, the Spartans’ possessions all around those moments wound up looking ragged against the force opposing. Mooney had splashed down the shots to help establish that 13-point lead, but when the score tightened, Tech’s foremost player, Jarrett Culver, loosened himself from game-long captivity to make some beautiful offense.
He made a floater with 2:29 left to get the lead to 54-51. He made a drive that wrung a foul and one free throw of two to make it 55-51. From there came a telltale play, when Michigan State began an offensive possession that never got going because Norense Odiase, the Texas Tech fifth-year senior from Fort Worth, almost immediately ripped the ball from Xavier Tillman out front. So when Culver crushed a three-point shot from the top of the key with 58 seconds left to make it 58-51, the red noise blared even greater from NFL Most Valuable Player and former Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes et al. Culver would squeeze out his point total to 10 yet depart the court as one of the happier 3-for-12 shooters going.
That happiness stems largely from the misery of the offenses of others. A terrific Buffalo team averaging 85 points reached the second round against Texas Tech and got 58. A very good Michigan team averaging 70 found Texas Tech and mustered 44. A fantastic Gonzaga team averaging 88 ran across Texas Tech and got 69, and now an evergreen Michigan State team averaging 78 just got 51. Somehow, in that last case, Texas Tech had sort of (italic) out-Michigan State’d (end italic) Michigan State.
“It was early,” Izzo said, “I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t think we posted them up like I wanted to.”
“Just what we do every day,” Odiase said, “our toughness, our grit to fight every 40 minutes, every possession.”
“They did a good job of full rotating,” said Michigan State star Cassius Winston, whose 16 points came painstakingly through 4-for-16 shooting.
“I said, `Guys, look, the objective is not to out-tough Michigan State,’” Beard said. “`That’s not going to happen. We’re going to try to equal their toughness.’”
“They switched really well,” Winston said, “made it hard to get into the post and things like that. Kept you on the sidelines. Their defense is really, really good.”
It all led to a closing handshake in which the mainstay (Izzo) greeted the newcomer (Beard) and, Beard said, “He mentioned our toughness, and that word means a lot in our program.” Later, Izzo would give Beard maybe the best compliment the tireless 46-year-old coach could ever crave: “I really like his team.”
The toughness had come in both abundance and microcosm when the water got hot in the closing three minutes. Odiase, the charismatic senior, said the Red Raiders told each other, “’Stay poised, be tough. Everything that helped us get to this point, we can’t just let it go to waste.’” Beard said, “If that run would have got us, then it would have been a long summer for me personally.”
The Big 12 co-champions had made it all the way to Monday night, to the night Beard told them they could reach way back last summer. They had made it through a second-half injury to Tariq Owens, the graduate transfer from St. John’s who had flown around with four rebounds and three blocks and seven points, and who returned to a roar with 8:10 left. They had made it even with Culver getting just one point in the first half, and they had made it through the very kind of team they have yearned to be.
Then crazily, yet logically, Owens stood in the locker room and said, “Just going back and watching film on Virginia.”
The question was whether Michigan State could do what four previous teams could not in the NCAA tournament: score enough points against Texas Tech to have a chance to win. The answer was that the Spartans could not.
The Red Raiders took a large second-half lead, watched all but one point of it slip away and then clamped down again at the end, coming away with a 61-51 win. Texas Tech goes to its first NCAA men’s national championship game on Monday, against a Virginia program that also had never made it that far before.
Senior guard Matt Mooney led the Red Raiders with 22 points, while no one else on his team had more than 10. The Spartans were led by Cassius Winston’s 16, but they made just 15 of 47 shots and became the latest team to succumb to Texas Tech’s fearsome defense.
After looking lost for most of the game, Jarrett Culver has come alive in the closing minutes. He scored the last six points for Texas Tech, all badly needed after Michigan State had closed within one, and the Red Raiders lead by nine with 39.7 seconds left.
We have a game! As Texas Tech’s offense cratered, Michigan State went on a 16-4 run to get within one, at 52-51. At that point, the Red Raiders’ Jarrett Culver asserted himself, a rarity for him in this contest, and hit a shot to put his team up by three with two and an half minutes left.
Texas Tech’s offense has devolved to hoping Matt Mooney hits a shot. He has 11 of the Red Raiders’ most recent 13 points with 3:44 left in the game. For the game, which Tech is leading, 52-47, Mooney has 22 points, while the rest of his team’s starters have combined for 15.
Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid, who is his team’s second-leading scorer with 12 points, suffered a lower-leg injury on a shot attempt that missed badly with 6:22 left. He limped back on the defensive end, but Texas Tech failed to make a point of isolating a player on him and missed its own shot. When the Spartans got the ball back, they called a timeout and pulled McQuaid from the game.
The scoring pace has picked up, although in fairness, it could hardly have gotten slower. After an opening 20 minutes in which Texas Tech took a 23-21 lead over Michigan State, the teams have combined for 47 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Unfortunately for the Spartans, the Red Raiders have scored more of those points and lead 50-42. MSU has shown signs of possibly getting hot from three-point range, which might be its only hope.
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech’s top player who had been struggling badly, finally got a basket, making a jump shot with just more than nine minutes to go. That gave his team a 50-38 lead over Michigan State, and the Red Raiders got another lift moments later, when senior center Tariq Owens, who had left the game with an ankle injury, came sprinting out of the locker room.
Michigan State’s chances for beating Texas Tech were thought to rest largely on some combination of guard Cassius Winston’s effectiveness and the Spartans’ presumed advantage in frontcourt talent. It hasn’t quite played out that way, though, with MSU forwards Xavier Tillman, Kenny Goins, Aaron Henry, Nick Ward and Gabe Brown combining for 12 points, all by Henry and Ward, on 4-of-15 shooting. Winston, the Spartans’ top overall player, has nine points but hasn’t scored in the second half.
Texas Tech took a 45-33 lead with 11:14 to go, with Matt Mooney getting the team to that margin with a three-pointer that upped his scoring total to a game-high 17 points. Michigan State was forced to call a timeout, as its hopes of making it to the national championship game look fairly bleak, given the ferocious defense it’s facing. Forward Kenny Goins, who made the game-winning shot in the Spartans’ Elite Eight win over Duke and is the only player with previous experience in a Final Four, has no points, and his team is facing its biggest deficit of the tournament.
Tariq Owens, who was having a very good game for Texas Tech, appeared to turn his ankle while coming down from a shot-block attempt. The 6-foot-10 senior from Odenton, Md., who transferred from St. John’s, remained on the floor for a few moments in audible pain, but was able to walk off the court before being helped to the locker room.
Texas Tech is getting a big lift from its bench, specifically reserve players Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards. They have combined for 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, helping the Red Raiders take a 42-33 lead with less than 12 minutes left.
With 4:38 gone in the second half, Texas Tech held a 32-28 lead in a game that continued to feature swarming defense on both sides. Center Tariq Owens picked up where he left off in the first half in terms of being a major presence on defense, and he pitched in with a two-point jumper from just inside the arc. For his part, Red Raiders star Jarrett Culver was not able to shake off his first-half woes, but teammate Davide Moretti scored a pair of baskets.
The bad news for Texas Tech is that its best player, Jarrett Culver, has been all but invisible, with one point on 0-of-6 shooting. The good news is that the Red Raiders’ have done what they do best and clamped down on Michigan State’s offense to take a 23-21 lead to the locker room at halftime.
Senior guard Matt Mooney led Texas Tech with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting, while the Spartans’ backcourt tandem of Matt McQuaid and Cassius Winston each had the same point total on a combined 6-of-15 from the field. Big man Tariq Owens made a large impact in the middle for the Red Raiders, with two blocks, four rebounds and a steal. Michigan State had a 16-14 edge in rebounding overall but may need to up that advantage to get more possessions and make up for its cavalcade of missed shots.
With defense-minded Virginia waiting in the national championship game Monday, many online observers are already predicting that a Texas Tech win in this contest will result in an alarmingly low-scoring affair for all the marbles. Michigan State still has a say in that, but it could be in big trouble in the second half if Culver, a candidate to go in the top five in the NBA draft, gets untracked.
Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney finally got his team a bucket with 2:09 left in the first half following a field goal drought of six and a half minutes. That gave the Red Raiders a 23-18 lead, and Michigan State followed by committing a shot-clock violation.
Texas Tech went on a 10-2 run to take a 21-18 lead with 4:35 to go in the first half, before Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman was fouled on a shot attempt. He missed both free throws, remaining scoreless in the game.
Texas Tech’s defense as been every bit as fierce as advertised. The Red Raiders have swarmed any Michigan State player with the ball and harassed seemingly every shot attempt by the Spartans. What they haven’t done is put the ball in the basket themselves and as a result, the game has seen just two points scored — on two free throws — between the 7:37 mark and a timeout with 2:30 left in the first half.
With 7:21 left in the first half, neither team’s most prominent player — Jarrett Culver for Texas Tech and Cassius Winston for Michigan State — has made a major impact. They have combined for seven points on 2-of-8 shooting with one rebound and two assists as the Red Raiders have taken a 19-18 lead. Texas Tech has been led in scoring by Tariq Owens, Matt Mooney and Brandone Francis, each with five points. Forward Xavier Tillman, another key player for the Spartans, has zero points on as many shot attempts.
Matt McQuaid has gotten off to a hot start, with his Spartans ahead 14-11 lead with under 12 minutes to play in the first half. The senior guard from Duncanville, Tex., about five hours from Texas Tech’s campus, has hit three of five shots for nine points. The Red Raiders’ star player, sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, has just one point on 0-of-2 shooting.
At the first TV timeout with just over four minutes played, the game was tied at 6, which was to be expected given the defensive skills of Texas Tech and Michigan State. The Red Raiders had three turnovers in the early going to the Spartans’ two, while they combined to go 3-of-3 on three-point attempts.
While Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid opened the scoring with a three-pointer — a very welcome sight for the Spartans — Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens had the most early impact. The 6-foot-10 senior forward nearly made spectacular dunk off an alley-oop pass on the opening possession, only to have it bounce off the rim. He did tie the score on a three-point make and followed that with steal before dribbling downcourt and finding teammate Jarrett Culver, who was fouled on a layup attempt.
How they got here: Michigan State (32-6) finished the regular season winning seven of its eight final games to claim a share of the Big Ten title, before going three for three in the conference tournament to claim that crown, as well. Despite that, the Spartans landed in the same region as top overall seed Duke, a move by the selection committee that drew widespread condemnation. Michigan State had a relatively easy time of it once in the tournament, beating No. 15 seed Bradley, 76-65; No. 10 seed Minnesota, 70-50; and No. 3 seed LSU, 80-63. That set up a date with Duke, a March classic between blue-blood programs and hall of fame coaches. The Spartans won, 68-67.
Final Four history: Michigan State is in its 10th Final Four, and eighth in the past 21 seasons, which leads the nation. The Spartans’ 10 total trips are eighth-most of any school. They won the national championship in 1979 and 2000, and played in the title game in 2009. But Michigan State has lost four of past five national semifinals. Texas Tech has never played in the Final Four.
They said it: “Everybody would like to have what Duke and Kentucky have as far as personnel. Both of them have had incredible years, but experience does matter too, you know. Somewhere there’s probably a happy medium. If you don’t have the best talent, you’d better be very old and very experienced.” — Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo.
“There’s guys on our team that have given up Netflix after 9 p.m. There’s guys on our team that have given up social media. There’s guys that have given up fried food. You basically have to sacrifice something. In our culture, if you say you’re going to do it, you’d better do it, or you’re about to get roasted. So me this year, it’s no beer, no desserts, no candy. I haven’t had any ice cream, candy, cake, beer, since first day of practice. A couple things, though. Did you know a Pop-Tart is not a dessert? It’s a breakfast. I’ve eaten a lot of Pop-Tarts, man, since October.” — Texas Tech Coach Chris Beard.
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