Michigan State, the No. 7 seed in the East Region, defeated No. 3 Oklahoma, 62-58, on Friday night inside the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The Spartans will play No. 4 Louisville for a shot at the Final Four.
The Spartans held off a late comeback bid from the Sooners, hitting all six free throws in the final 80 seconds of regulation.
Travis Trice had another good showing in the NCAA tournament with a game-high 24 points while Denzel Valentine added 18. Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 21 points.
It wasn’t until 9:30 left in the game that Michigan State took its first lead. Just over two minutes later, Oklahoma would recapture the lead with a TaShawn Thomas layup. However, that’d be the Sooners only field goal in an eight and half minute span. That slump didn’t snap until Hield hit a second-chance three with just over a minute to go, cutting the deficit to 58-56. From there Michigan State closed it out from the line.
The win for Michigan State sets up Sunday’s matchup between two coaching greats — Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo — who have both been terrific this March. As I mentioned earlier in the night, Pitino dismissed Chris Jones from the program last month, yet finds his team in another Elite 8; the third time in four years.
This time last year, No. 4 seeded Michigan State was a trendy pick to be the national champion. Every four-year player under Izzo had reached at least one Final Four entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament, however, eventual champion UConn ended that streak in the Elite 8 along with the careers of Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Sophomore Gary Harris decided to declare for the NBA Draft, leaving Izzo with some experience, but no stars.
That was apparent in November when the Spartans played the role of odd man out in the Champions Classic double-header. Each of the other participants — Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State’s opponent that night, Duke — all had their share of McDonald’s All-Americans, compared to only one (Dawson) for Michigan State.
Yet, here they are, relying on the play of Trice, Valentine and Dawson, all of whom have had their share of NCAA tournament experience.
Two unlikely runs converge on Sunday between Louisville and Michigan State, but only one will continue on the road to Indianapolis.