Spartans stopped by Texas Tech in national semifinal

Spartans a couple shots short, score season-low point total

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Spartans stopped by Texas Tech in national semifinal

Photo: Julian Mitchell/WDBM

Photo: Julian Mitchell/WDBM

Photo: Julian Mitchell/WDBM

Photo: Julian Mitchell/WDBM

Kyle Turk, Sports Editor

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Michigan State had been there before. One-possession games in crunch time. On the big stage, against a team that could match their talent.

This time, the shots wouldn’t fall.

Texas Tech’s stifling defense earned their spot in Monday night’s national championship game, ending MSU’s season by winning 61-51.

The game felt like a bizarro-world version of MSU’s win over Michigan in the Big Ten title game, all the way down to Tariq Owens returning from injury midway through the second half.

They deserved to beat us,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said postgame. “They played better than us, they made shots. Made some incredible shots late. They were the tougher team tonight, they just were.”

Down the stretch, a Matt McQuaid missed 3-pointer will be the one Izzo wishes he had back. Open on the wing, 1:50 left and missed long.

Tech’s Jarrett Culver hit the shots in winning time for Chris Beard’s team, scoring six straight points once the game was 52-51 with 2:54 left.

MSU trailed by just two points at halftime. If the first half was a rock fight, the second was Tech’s turn to throw haymakers. A 13-5 run just a couple minutes into the second half did the job for Tech, as guard Matt Mooney did the work on offense while the entire lineup pitched in defensively. Mooney had 8 points in that stretch on his way to a game-high 22.

The momentum was firmly set in Texas Tech’s direction. This Michigan State team is renowned for its mental toughness, so even with the lead ballooning to 13, they got to work.  

A Xavier Tillman 3 cut the lead to 9 with 7:59 left and four Cassius Winston free throws cut the lead to 7. Some excellent State defense, and MSU trailed by 5 with 3:44 left. Even though Nick Ward missed the front end of a 1-and-1, two more free throws from Aaron Henry made it a one-possession game.

Henry drove right, and his curling layup cut the lead to 1 with 1:50 left. Culver was scoreless in the first half, but hit a floater with 2:29 left to push the lead back to 3 – a lead Tech would hold for the remainder. 

The first half featured a hot start for McQuaid, who made three of his first five shots to pace MSU early on. Henry’s second foul with 11:32 left in the half changed the game for both sides. Mooney made a couple of quick baskets on Henry’s replacement – fellow freshman Gabe Brown – and once Nick Ward picked up a second foul with 8:52 left, Izzo had to play Brown with the starters for the rest of the half. Tech took a lead with 8:42 left in the half on a Brandone Francis 3 and kept it for the rest of the half.

That was down more to the Tech defense than anything else – MSU went cold from the field thanks to stifling team defense. After getting a couple of 3s to go early, State made just one of their last six 3s in the half and finished the half shooting just 30.4% from the field.

“We were prepared,” Winston said. “They were good at it. They got their hands on a lot of balls. We could have been a lot better, though.”

A desperately-needed Winston 3 cut the Tech lead to two in the final minute of the half, and MSU’s last possession of the half had a Tillman layup blocked away by Tariq Owens. The 23-21 scoreline at the half was the lowest at a Final Four since 2000’s game between MSU and Wisconsin. Tillman and Goins were both scoreless. MSU had trailed Bradley at the half in their first-round game in this tournament, and they needed more second-half heroics – this time against a much tougher opponent.

“Probably in a day I’ll be able to sit back and look at the incredible journey and the incredible run,” Izzo said. “It’s just disappointing in some way.”

MSU finishes the year 32-7. Texas Tech will play Virginia for the national title on Monday night, with a 9:20 p.m. Eastern tip-off.