Story & Photo by Robin Deehan
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – In an Elite-8 matchup that saw a clash of coaching titans, gritty play and eleven lead changes, it all came down to an extra five minutes.
The Michigan State Spartans punched their ticket to their first Final Four since 2010 in an overtime thriller Sunday afternoon at the Carrier Dome.
“It was a dog-eat-dog day, boy, and I think both teams spent themselves,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Just can't believe where we're going. I'm going to feel that way until the plane lands, and then it will be fun to go to work and see if we can keep this magical journey going.”
Second Half Struggles
After an evenly matched first 15 minutes of play, Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear nailed a three-pointer at 4:14 to ignite a Cardinal run that sent them into the locker room with an eight point lead.
But as second half play started the Cardinals half court offense struggled, shooting just 20-percent from the field and 25-percent from beyond the arc allowing the Spartans the opportunity to chip away.
“We did a heck of a job after a sluggish first half where I thought Louisville played very well,” Izzo said. “We just didn't defend as well in that first half. They really got back to who we are. Holding a team like that to 5-of-25 from the field in the second half is remarkable.”
With 9:00 left in regulation, a Matt Costello layup allowed Michigan State to tie it at 51 and back-to-back triples by Bryn Forbes and Travis Trice gave the Spartans a six-point lead.
But Louisville battled back and came within one when Blackshear drained a three with 1:48 left to play in regulation.
After a Spartan miss in their offensive end, Forbes fouled Blackshear and sent him to the line for two.
Blackshear sank both giving the Cardinals the 64-63 advantage with 1:14 left on the clock.
But 34 seconds later Marvin Clark Jr. scored off a Denzel Valentine assist giving the Spartans the lead back.
On the next play, Clark Jr. was fouled while grabbing a rebound by Mangok Mathiang.
Clark Jr. missed both free throw attempts and Louisville got the ball back still down by one with 21 seconds left on the clock.
Rozier took the final shot for the Cardinals but missed, and as Mathiang went up for the rebound Clark Jr. was called for a foul and Mathiang was sent to the free throw line with five seconds left.
Mathiang's first free throw took a friendly bounce and went in to tie the game at 65 but he missed the second.
Branden Dawson grabbed the rebound and threw it to Trice but Trice’s half court desperation shot was off the mark as time expired and the game headed into overtime.
The Extra Five
The Spartans jumped out to an early lead in the extra time thanks to Forbes, who nailed a big three and two free throws to give Michigan State a 70-66 lead.
Rozier and Blackshear scored bringing the Cardinals to within two with 1:04 left to play.
But an incredible rebound put-back by Dawson off a missed Forbes three gave the Spartans a four-point advantage with the clock showing 28 seconds.
“I was kind of shocked, they left him [Forbes] wide open I saw him in the corner, and I threw it to him,” Dawson said. “The shot looked good. When it came off, just being in the right place at the right time. The ball came to me, and I went up.”
And the final nail in the Louisville coffin came when Quentin Snider turned the ball over forcing the Cardinals to foul Trice.
Trice sank both free throws giving the Spartans the 76-70 advantage with 10 seconds left on the clock. That held as time expired.
“We've got to give them credit,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. “We almost came back and won the game. We're a free throw away from winning the game, which would have been amazing. We're real proud of our guys.”
Trice finished with 17 points and five assists while Valentine netted 15 and grabbed seven rebounds for the Spartans.
Forbes finished with 14 points including the clutch five in overtime.
Blackshear dropped 28 for the Cardinals and Montrezl Harrell finished with 14, 12 in the first half alone.
Up Next for the Spartans
Michigan State will meet South Region winner Duke April 4 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The winner will face the winner of the Kentucky/Wisconsin matchup in the National Championship game on April 6.