Betting against a Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State Spartans team in March is becoming an exercise in futility. Even his best teams are more than capable of making deep runs come the final month of the season.
Almost a year to the day after shocking Virginia in a third round NCAA tournament matchup, the Spartans did it again. This time knocking off second-seeded UVa 60-54 on the strength of Travis Trice’s 23 points and some hard-nosed defense in the second half.
Seventh-seeded MSU also got a great effort from forward Brendan Dawson, who had 15 points and nine rebounds in the winning effort. Those two combined to move the Spartans in to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
Michigan State’s win over the Cavaliers also was historical, as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the East region are gone. It also represents just the second time that both of the top seeds in a region were eliminated before the Sweet 16, with the other happening in 2004.
It felt like holding a mirror up to last year’s regional semi-final on Sunday afternoon, as the Spartans used virtually the same playbook as last season to advance over UVa once again.
Last season the Spartans held the Cavaliers to 35.1 percent shooting from the field. On Sunday, the Cavaliers were frustrated offensively once again, shooting just 29.8 percent from the field and just 2-of-17 from beyond the arc.
Virginia wasn’t out of the game until very late though, as Michigan State wasn’t much better offensively. Izzo’s bunch shot just 17 of 40 from the field on the day. However, they were saved thanks to 6 of 12 shooting from deep.
With the game in the balance early in the second half, Michigan State was able to find the spark needed to hold of the Cavaliers. After UVa guard Justin Anderson made a layup to make the game a two-point affair to start the second half, Michigan State responded with a 12-2 run that blew the game wide open.
Still, things remained close thanks to Virginia’s ability to draw fouls and knock down enough free throws to counter its poor shooting from the field.
Two key moments helped ice this game away for the Spartans. First was a dubious at best foul call against UVa’s Darion Atkins, who was shown via replay to have cleanly blocked a Gavin Schilling shot attempt. It was his fourth foul and he had to sit out the majority of the final 8:36 to preserve his final foul.
Virginia was down six at that point, but when Atkins re-entered the game it was MSU guard Travis Trice that put the final dagger in the matchup. With one second left on the shot clock, Trice buried a 28-footer to put his Spartans up 52-44 with three minutes to play.
Michigan State turned up the defense even more in the final three minutes and used that to erase any hopes of a real comeback.
The Spartans will play the winner of the Oklahoma-Dayton game in Syracuse, New York, on Friday.