Reaching Deep in Heart of Texas
Who are these guys, and what are they doing one step from the most improbable of Final Four appearances?
A month and a half ago, Michigan State would have been a sold pick to advance to the Elite Eight ... of the NIT.
But after upsetting and ending the season and reign of defending national champion Maryland, 60-58, in a South Regional semifinal Friday night, the No. 7-seeded Spartans, who were just 10-8 at the end of January, are one win away from New Orleans.
The Spartans (22-12), though, had to survive a furious late rally by the No. 6-seeded Terrapins (20-10) in front of 33,009 in the Alamodome to advance to Sunday’s regional final against top-seeded Texas.
“I think we got a little tired,” said Coach Tom Izzo, whose record improved to 19-4 in the NCAA tournament.
"[Maryland] turned up the pressure. That’s why they’re the defending champions -- they smelled blood and they went after it.
“We could have quit, but we didn’t.”
Neither did the Terrapins.
Maryland, which trailed by 10 points early in the first half before tying the score, 32-32, early in the second half, was behind by a game-high 14 points, 54-40, following two free throws by Alan Anderson with 6:58 to play.
Then the Terrapins, as if some light bulb went on over their collective heads, began pressing and trapping the point guard-less Spartans, creating turnovers and getting steals with aplomb.
Forcing the tempo and rattling Michigan State, Maryland, which had 12 steals and forced 18 turnovers, embarked on a 15-0 run, grabbing its first lead on senior point guard Steve Blake’s acrobatic layup with 3:44 left.
After the teams traded scores, Maryland senior center Tahj Holden converted a free throw with 1:32 remaining to give the Terrapins their largest lead, 58-56.
But it was a first-year player that ended the careers of Maryland’s four senior starters.
Center Paul Davis drove the lane and threw down a nasty dunk with 58 seconds to play to tie the score and, with 4.7 seconds on the game clock, one second on the shot clock, he banked in a twisting leaner that proved to be the game-winner.
“You watch all these games and you see people hit these buzzer-beaters and you want to see how it feels and do one of those,” said Davis, who came off the bench to lead the Spartans with 13 points on five-for-seven shooting, with five rebounds and a block in 22 minutes.
“I watched Maryland hit that one, it was just that this time of the year it’s so unbelievable to do it.”
Still Davis’ heroics nearly became a side note as Maryland, which had more than four seconds in which to work, inbounded the ball to Blake, who raced upcourt, stopped just short of the three-point circle and shot ... only to hit the back of the rim and bounce away harmlessly as the horn sounded.
Maryland, which made only two of 16 three-point shots, was led by senior shooting guard Drew Nicholas’ 18 points.