It started off like a bad dream. It was Middle Tennessee State all over again. A nightmare.
No. 9 Michigan State fell flat on their faces out of the gate against No. 8 Miami (FL), allowing the Hurricanes to storm out to a 15-3 lead.
Maybe the Spartans really were just too young and inexperienced. Maybe the lack of size and depth really would be the downfall of this team. Maybe another first round exit really was in the cards for head coach Tom Izzo and company.
But then, MSU woke up. They punched Miami in the mouth, went into the eye of the Hurricane (pun intended), and didn’t come out until they left with a win, a dominating one at that. The Spartans defeated Miami 78-58 in one of the final games in the Round of 64 Friday night.
Michigan State finished the first half on a 30-8 run. During that span, they went 9-for-11 from the field and turned the ball over zero times. ZERO. The Spartans were playing as smart, as together and as well as they have all season long. They never looked back from there.
MSU turned the ball over 12 times, which is below their season average of 14.2. “When we didn’t turn the ball over, I think we executed pretty well,” Izzo told Turner post-game. “Defensively I thought we were really good.”
The Spartans also won the rebounding margin by 13, assisted on made baskets 10 more times than Miami and shot 56 percent from the field to Miami’s 40 percent.
AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
Michigan State’s freshman foursome of Nick Ward, Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston and Josh Langford didn’t play like the teenagers they are for the final 30 minutes. Bridges finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, with two vicious dunks to boot. Ward finished with 19 points and seven rebounds on 8-of-9 shooting (3-for-3 on free throws). Winston added seven points and five dimes off the bench. Langford scored 13 points, 10 of which coming in the second half.
“He deserves some credit,” Izzo said pointing to Ward. “He’s had to play those ball screens. Cassius Winston did an unbelievable job and I think that was the difference in the game.”
With the lack of seniors and upperclassmen, Matt McQuaid is now somehow looked at as a veteran for Izzo’s squad. He only scored seven points, but his five rebounds and three assists didn’t go unnoticed, as he played one of his best all-around games of the season. Plus, his three-pointer in the first half sparked that 30-8 run that led Michigan State to the victory.
DEATH, TAXES, AND IZZO IN MARCH
You’ve heard it repeatedly. Betting against Tom Izzo in the month of March is something that’s not quite wise to do. Seldom does Michigan State disappoint under Izzo.
In fact, Izzo has 14 wins as the lower seed in March Madness. That’s the most all-time by any coach in the NCAA tournament–Jim Boeheim, Rollie Massimino and Lute Olson each have 11. The Hall of Famer also has an astounding career record of 21-4 in the second game of a tournament weekend. Three of those four losses came to No. 1 seeds while the other came to UConn in 2014, who went on to win the championship.
Whatever you do, don’t count Izzo out in this magical month.
JAYHAWKS ON THE CLOCK
The Spartans will face No. 1 seed Kansas on Sunday afternoon at 5:15 p.m. ET in Tulsa, meaning Jayhawks freshman Josh Jackson, who chose KU over MSU, will face the Spartans.
Before Jackson committed to Kansas, Bridges, Ward, Winston and Langford were convinced that he’d choose East Lansing. So sure that they made shirts to celebrate the what-could-have-been star-studded freshman fivesome. Safe to say MSU will have a chip on their shoulder.
“I’m excited to work again,” Izzo said post-game with a smile following the 20-point win. “You like to work another night this time of year. Anytime you’re working, it’s a good thing.”