CHARLOTTE — There were tears in the locker room after the Virginia men’s basketball team lost to Michigan State in last year’s Sweet 16. There was also an order: Remember how this feels, junior forward Anthony Gill said.
“It was a terrible feeling,” point guard London Perrantes said.
“It was tough,” wing Justin Anderson said.
“We felt like we were the better team,” forward Darion Atkins said.
There were laughs in the locker room Saturday. The No. 2 seed Cavaliers vividly recall their anguish after losing to Michigan State last year, but with a rematch looming Sunday in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32, the memories haven’t caused tension. Cavaliers players appeared loose during the 40 minutes their locker room was open to media; the room was filled with raucous laughter.
Freshman B.J. Stith used his iPhone to record Malcolm Brogdon answering questions from reporters. “You’re so obnoxious,” Brogdon said while laughing. Center Mike Tobey and Marial Shayok pretended to fight with each other.
Jack Salt, who is redshirting this year, stood in front of Anderson while Anderson answered questions, trying to rattle him. “Does Jack realize that I’m a veteran and him standing there doesn’t affect me at all?” Anderson asked reporters.
Anderson also gave Gill a hard time about his roommates. Seated beside each other, Anderson requested that Gill name his five roommates, all Virginia basketball players, then Anderson pointed out he wasn’t one of the players listed.
“He wanted to be outside the basketball group,” Gill shot back jokingly. “I think that speaks to his character and his lack of teammate-ness.”
Virginia players sat behind the baseline and watched the end of Michigan State’s 70-63 victory over Georgia on Friday afternoon. They said they were rooting for the No. 7 seed Spartans and that getting a second chance against them in the NCAA tournament was sweet.
Perrantes had crossed his fingers that the Cavaliers (30-3) would get to play Michigan State (24-11) during the regular season in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but the Cavaliers played Maryland instead. Players instantly took note of the potential matchup when the tournament brackets were revealed Sunday night and showed Michigan State in the Charlotte pod with Virginia.
“It’s definitely got to be a revenge factor for them,” Michigan State guard Travis Trice said. “It would be the same thing for us if a team put us out last year.”
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said Virginia Coach Tony Bennett told Izzo after last year’s game that it was how basketball games should be played. Bennett said Saturday he appreciated that it wasn’t a sloppy contest.
The teams are similar in their blue-collar nature. The Spartans have just one McDonald’s all-American on the roster, Branden Dawson, and the Cavaliers have none. But the styles are contrasting. The Spartans thrive on scoring in transition, while the Cavaliers pride themselves on allowing few fast-break opportunities. In last year’s game, Virginia shot 35.1, while the Spartans shot 44.7 percent.
“We’ve got to shoot the ball better,” Anderson said. “Maybe the rims in [Madison Square Garden] were a little tight. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t even scoring that well on those rims that year.”
The Cavaliers have said that playing Michigan State again won’t be about revenge; they only care about advancing to the Sweet 16. But they haven’t shied away from admitting they are excited Michigan State is standing in their way, and they’re hopeful the cheerful locker room environment will still be there after Sunday’s game.
“We were kind of relieved and happy,” Atkins said. “It’s not often you get to play the same team again.”
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