ST. LOUIS (AP) No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State sent the biggest shock yet through the NCAA Tournament on Friday, knocking off second-seeded Michigan State 90-81 in the first round.
Reggie Upshaw scored 21 points to lead the balanced Blue Raiders (25-9), who shut down player of the year candidate Denzel Valentine. Middle Tennessee never trailed the Spartans (29-6) in one of the biggest upsets since the tournament began seeding teams in 1985.
It was the eighth time a No. 2 seed lost to a No. 15, and first since Florida Gulf Coast beat Georgetown in 2013. The Eagles went on to reach the Sweet 16.
The Blue Raiders will try to do the same against No. 10 seed Syracuse on Sunday.
Michigan State won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, and was ranked No. 2 in the country. Even as a second-seed, many picked them as favorites to win the East, in part because of coach Tom Izzo’s postseason history.
Matt Costello matched a career-best with 22 points for the Spartans, but it wasn’t enough to offset Valentine’s miserable afternoon. The senior had 13 points and 12 assists, but he also had six turnovers – one of them coming with the Spartans trailing 79-76 and less than three minutes to go.
Michigan State twice had chances to tie the game after that, but Valentine missed an open 3 from the top of the key, and Bryn Forbes missed another. The Blue Raiders eventually scored on back-to-back runouts to establish some breathing room, then coaxed the final few seconds off the clock.
Giddy Potts added 19 points, and Darnell Harris and Perrin Buford scored 15 apiece, as the Conference USA champion Blue Raiders won their first NCAA Tournament game since 1989.
Not that they haven’t made a statement before: They beat Kentucky in the first round in 1982.
They never seemed intimidated by the Spartans. They roared to a 15-2 leading in the opening minutes to silence what Michigan State fans were in the building, then slowly got Syracuse and Dayton fans on their side.
Michigan State never managed to draw even throughout the first half. Valentine was saddled with two fouls and rendered ineffective, and the backcourt of Forbes and Eron Harris combined for four turnovers while managing a single point.
Valentine’s frustration reached its apex after he committed back-to-back turnovers in the second half. During a stoppage in play and with the Blue Raiders leading 51-43, Valentine stalked back to his team’s huddle and proceeded to slam his hand into the floor.
Michigan State slowly trimmed the lead to 65-64 on a basket by Costello with eight minutes to play, but the Blue Raiders scored on their next six trips down floor to hold their lead.
They held onto it the rest of the way, too. It was the first time the Spartans, heavily favored to reach the Final Four, were bounced from the tournament in the first round since 2011.
Middle Tennessee State: The Blue Raiders have won seven straight. … Potts, who led the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage, was 3 for 5 from beyond the arc. … Upshaw was 8 of 14 from the field.
Michigan State: Forbes finished with 14 points. Harris had nine points and five turnovers. … The Spartans reached the national title game the last time they were No. 2 seeds, winning the championship in 1979 and finishing second in 2009. … The Spartans had won 13 of their last 14.
Middle Tennessee State plays the Orange on Sunday.