The Michigan State Spartans and the Louisville Cardinals met on Sunday afternoon with a trip to Indianapolis on the line. The Spartans were looking to secure their ninth trip to the Final Four in school history, something that nobody would have thought they could do a couple months ago.
Games like this are why we love college basketball. Louisville outplayed Michigan State in the first half and went into the break up by 8. If you thought an eight point deficit was too much for the Spartans to overcome, you must not have watched this team play this year. You can never count these guys out. Michigan State fought back and grabbed their first lead of the second half with a huge 3 from Bryn Forbes with just over 8 minutes left to play. The Cardinals took a one point lead with a little over a minute remaining in the game. Melvin Clark Jr. grabbed the one point lead back for the Spartans after converting on a beautiful pass from Denzel Valentine. Clark made another huge play by coming down with a big defensive board on the ensuing possession with 22 seconds remaining. He was fouled on the play, but wasn't able to covert either of his foul shots. Louisville's Mangok Matthiang went to the line with his team down 1 with 5 seconds left to play. He split the free-throws and the game went to overtime. The Spartans' defense stepped up in overtime and only allowed one field goal from the Cardinals. Branden Dawson made the play of the game when he converted on an offensive rebound put back to give the Spartans a four point edge with just over 30 seconds to play. Michigan State used that to knock off Louisville 76-70. This is the first time since 2005 the Big Ten has had two teams represented in the Final Four.
What We Learned
Late game misses at the line won't always cost MSU the game.
The Spartans were 15-20 (75%) from the line on Sunday afternoon and had a great day at the line by their standards. Melvin Clark Jr. was the only Spartan to really make a mistake at the line. He wasn't able to knock down either of his free throws with 22 seconds left in regulation. Fortunately he was bailed out by Mangok Matthiang, who wasn't able to hit both of his free throws to give the Cardinals the lead. We all know how the Spartans have fared in late game foul shooting scenarios this season. They were fortunate that two big misses didn't come back to haunt them in the end.
Bryn Forbes can provide a spark off the bench.
Forbes finished with 14 points on 4 of 7 shooting on Sunday afternoon. He provided the Spartans with a huge lift with his three point shooting and converted on 4 of his 6 attempts. He knocked down a three in the beginning of overtime that set the tempo for the rest of the extra frame. Forbes put up 5 points in overtime to single-handily match Louisville. When you're the underdog, you need guys like Forbes to step up and make big plays. He is the unsung hero of the Spartans' Elite Eight victory. Without his play, I don't believe Michigan State upsets Louisville.
Michigan State may be a team of destiny.
This Spartans' team plays with no fear and you have to admire that. No matter who the opponent or the situation is, they believe they can come out victorious. The Spartans are peaking at the right time and have now won 12 of their last 15 games. They remind me of the UConn Huskies team that won the tournament last year. Just like UConn, Michigan State relishes the role of being the underdog and plays with a chip on their shoulder. Let's see if the Spartans can win it all as a 7th seed just like UConn did last year.
Michigan State will join Wisconsin in Indianapolis for the Final Four. The Big Ten is the only conference that will send two representatives to the Final Four this year. The Spartans appear to be a team of destiny. You can't count out this team against the heavily favored Duke Blue Devils. With the win on Sunday, Tom Izzo is now 13-9 when facing higher teams in the NCAA Tournament. He will look for his 14th win against a higher seeded team Saturday against Coach K and the Blue Devils.