Michigan State couldn’t get past Duke in an early non-conference matchup, and it only got worse as the Blue Devils ended the Spartans’ cinderella run at the 2015 NCAA tournament with an 81-61 win in the first national semi-final.
Duke’s freshman phoneme, Okafor, ended the game with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting. But, it was his fellow freshman, Justice Winslow, who led all Blue Devil scorers with 19 points and nine rebounds in the winning effort.
The duo was joined in double figures by senior guard Quinn Cook, who had 17 points as well.
MSU had an answer in the form of Denzel Valentine, who poured in a game-high 22 points. However, he had little in the way of help not named Travis Trice (who had 16 points himself).
The Spartans appeared to have all the juice they had in the previous two weekends of the NCAA tournament to open the matchup. However, after starting off hot and opening up a 14-6 lead on Duke, it all came crashing back down to earth.
Duke leads 36-25, outscoring MSU 30-11 over final 16-minutes-plus. Spartans hit 5 of first 7 shots, then made 3 of last 20
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) April 4, 2015
A lot of it had to do with the inability to take smart shots and consistent shots as well. Duke’s defense also showed up in a major way, not allowing the Spartans to get comfortable after the first media timeout.
Duke’s run was also pretty impressive because the Blue Devils didn’t really give MSU a heavy dose of Jahlil Okafor. He finished the first half with 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting, while MSU had its own big man, Denzel Valentine, go for 11 points on 3 of 4 shooting as well.
The difference was, MSU had no one come along for the offensive parade. Valentine’s teammates went just 5 of 23, or 21.7 percent from the field in the first half.
Halftime didn’t change much, as the Blue Devils came out and extended their 11-point lead quickly in the second half and never looked back. Duke didn’t have a lead of less than 13 points as it began to stretch its lead to 20 points for most of the half.
In the end, it was Duke’s ability to pound the ball down low and get to the rim that made the difference. Michigan State took just 16 free throws, while Duke ended the night 27 of 37 from the line.
Okafor also did work by getting to the free throw line and putting MSU’s bigs on the back foot and in deep foul trouble. Matt Costello, Branden Dawson and Marvin Clark Jr. all finished with four fouls each and it changed how physical the Spartans could play down low.
The loss also dropped MSU head coach Tom Izzo to 1-9 against Coach K in his career, and undoubtedly the worse loss of all nine. It also happened to be the worst loss in NCAA tournament history for Izzo’s Spartans.
Not exactly the way anyone in East Lansing or around Big Ten country was hoping it would end (expect maybe some of those folks over in Ann Arbor). However, hope for a Big Ten team winning a title will rest on the shoulders of the Wisconsin Badgers, who take on Kentucky in the final national semi-final of the night.