COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 18: Kwamain Mitchell #3 of the St. Louis Billikens dives for a ball against Austin Thornton #13 of the Michigan State Spartans in the first half during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's basketball tournament at Nationwide Arena on March 18, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
"Like they said, they mucked it up, and we were able to play through that muckness or whatever," Nix said after Michigan State won 65-61 to advance to the Sweet 16. "We went at them, and they went at us. I think we just out-matched, out-beat their intensity."
That quote comes from, who else, The Nixer. It came from him after a game that saw Michigan State up by 11 with less than 12 minutes to play. And if Nix thought the game was mucked up before, did it get dirty thereafter as MSU scored eight points in the next minutes. and St. Louis managed to get the game within two with less than four minutes to play.
And as the Billikens inched closer and closer, the St. Louis fan contingent sitting in the sections below and to the right of me and my friend were getting ever rowdier, with the noise increasing for every foul SLU drew on the Spartans. Once the game got within two, it was literally put up or shut up time -- either St. Louis would tie the game on another drive or foul shots, or the Spartans would find an answer and quiet the blue and white crowd.
At these times, Dray's gonna Dray.
Draymond Green came out of the timeout called once St. Louis got the game within two, drove towards the lane, pulled up just inside the three-point line, and launched one of the most terrifying two-pointers I've seen in person. Shot converted, cheer and exhale, MSU goes up four.
It's a minute later in game time, about five minutes later in real time, and a few hours in perceived time. MSU has gotten a stop on the defensive end (finally), and is running their offense. And running their offense. And when they ran some offense, they ran it some more. The shot clock dips to single digits, and eventually Draymond must make a play. He drives to the basket and...
When I saw his play in real time in Nationwide Arena, I first thought that Draymond attempted one of the most awkward lay-ups I've seen live or on TV. No though, it was a pass to Keith Appling, the same Keith Appling who was sagged off by St. Louis defenders who preferred him to shoot the three rather than drive, that Keith took the three-point shot, hit the rim, the backboard, and the rim once again for good measure, and finally sunk the shot. MSU goes up seven, the crowd goes wild, and my friend Paul and I are witness to one of the most beautiful sights in sports -- the moment where the other team's crowd, the one that has been cheering all day, believing in their team and hating yours, witnesses a guillotine. The hands go to their heads, the smiles erase, and the gazes go beyond the state lines.
From there it was mostly smooth sailing, although Austin Thornton waited until the last possible moment to keept MSU up two possessions with a free throw with ten seconds left. The Spartans are on to the Sweet Sixteen, and the dream season continues.
Four factors graph, because it's what we do:
- MSU held SLU to a lot lower field goal percentage than I thought the Spartans did live, in the middle of the second half there was a ten minute stretch where I thought the Billikens got at least two points each time on offense.
- It's not often you see MSU's offensive rebounding within two percentage points of their turnover percentage, but here we are. I've got a feeling the Spartans will miss Brandon Dawson more on the boards than they will on defense.
Say it with me now: survive and advance. The Spartans survive, and they advance to play a Louisville team riding a hot streak that has earned them a Big East title and a trip to Phoenix. More on them later than the week, but if Louisville fans keep thinking they'll beat MSU because they can't run (average tempo differential in their games this season -- +1.8 for Louisville). You know the saying about history -- those that can't remember it are doomed to repeat it.