More plays down the stretch...
Michigan State has been in games like this all season, and once MSU took the lead on a Matt Costello rebound off his own shot and follow-up dunk for a 48-47 lead with 6:41 to play, the Spartans refused to surrender their lead with just enough defense, just enough offensive execution, just enough rebounding including key offensive rebounds, and then a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line over the last one minute and twenty seconds in a 62-58 Sweet 16 victory over Oklahoma to move on to an Elite 8 meeting with Louisville on Sunday.
Let's take a look at the keys and storylines in the Spartan's Sweet 16 win.
Those Three Amigos
For the Spartans, Travis Trice led the way on offense throughout, Denzel Valentine overcame a rough first half shooting the ball, and Branden Dawson found some points to go with his rebounds as the three Spartans totaled up 48 of the Spartans 62 points and 21 of MSU's 36 rebounds.
Trice scored a game-high 24 points and, when needed, Trice stepped up for MSU to score 9 of the Spartans' last 11 points over the final 5 minutes. With just over two minutes left to play, Trice came through with a calm and under control, drive, stop, and-turnaround-fade short jumper to increase the Spartan lead to 5 points, and then, answered the call yet again when put on the free throw line hitting all four of his free throws which included knocking down both free throws of a one-and-one opportunity with 1:19 to play.
Denzel Valentine shot only 2 of 9 from the field in the first half, but by game's end Valentine had 18 points and 7 rebounds which included two big three pointers and a huge offensive rebound where Valentine drew a foul. The first big Valentine three came directly off of an inbound pass from Branden Dawson as Buddy Hield momentarily fell asleep with 10:21 to play which tied the game at 42-42. The second big three came with the Spartans up by one, where, off of a Branden Dawson outlet to mid-court, Valentine took some contact, avoided the offensive foul, and then dribbled to the three-point line where confidently took and made a three pointer with 6:19 to play which put the Spartans up by four. With the Spartans up by only two with just over 30 seconds left in the game, Valentine grabbed an offensive rebound of a Matt Costello offensive tip-back attempt which forced Oklahoma to foul. Valentine then stepped up to the free throw line and knocked down both free throws to take the Spartan lead back up to two possessions.
Branden Dawson grabbed 9 first half rebounds but only scored one bucket. Dawson was pulled for Marvin Clark Jr. in the second half and when Dawson returned his energy was ramped up and Dawson had one of those dominant stretches he's capable of--this one coming over about a three-minute stretch with under ten minutes to play in the second half, which included two made jumpers, an incredible block of an Oklahoma slam-dunk attempt, disruptive energy which cleared the way for Matt Costello to follow up his own missed hook with a slam dunk, and then a defensive rebound and pass up court which led to a key Valentine three pointer.
Gavin and Costello
Gavin Schilling's offensive rebound and slam dunk just over 4 minutes into the game seemed to raise up his confidence, and Schilling added three more buckets which included a nice lay-up off of a fine Denzel Valentine find, another slam dunk on the assist from Alvin Ellis III, and then an early second-half bucket from in close as Schilling totaled up 8 points in 20 minutes played. Schilling also grabbed 2 offensive rebounds on the scoresheet, but again, struggled with fouls--with two fouls in the first half, and then two fouls on two consecutive Oklahoma possessions in the second half, with his 4th foul coming with 7:52 still to play.
Matt Costello picked up 3 offensive rebounds, with all three of his offensive boards coming at big moments, including two offensive rebounds with under 3 minutes to play. Costello also picked up an offensive foul, and had the important follow-up dunk off of his own hook-shot miss, but Costello was limited to 15 minutes played as he also picked up two fouls in the first half and then, too, picked up his third and fourth foulso n consecutive Oklahoma possessions which, with 4:43 still to play, dangerously had both Spartan bigs with 4 fouls each.
Tum Tum Struggles
On the Spartans' first possession, Oklahoma came out and looked to set the tone with am aggressive steal by Jordan Woodard of a simple Tum Tum Nairn pass out on the perimeter which Woodard took the other way for an Izzo-TD-lay-up. Tum Tum looked out of sorts as Oklahoma showed no respect for Nairn's shooting ability. Nairn only played 11 minutes but Travis Trice was up to the task to pick up most of the point guard minutes.
The Rest of the Spartan Bench
With Oklahoma rendering Nairn ineffective, Bryn Forbes was called upon for 31 minutes and his improved defense kept him on the court despite his only hitting one open three in shooting 1 of 6 from the field. Marvin Clark Jr. struggled with fouls, picking up 3 in only 7 minutes played, but Clark's best contribution came with two aggressive defensive rebounds on consecutive possessions with Branden Dawson on the bench early in the second half. Alvin Ellis III played only 4 minutes but played aggressively in grabbing 3 rebounds (2 offensive boards) while dishing an assist for a Gavin Schilling slam dunk. Colby Wollenman struggled in his 5 minutes played in the first half but his minutes were needed due to Spartan foul trouble.
How Oklahoma Gained Their Lead
The Spartans looked to be in trouble five-and-half minutes into the game as the Sooners scored on eight of their first nine offensive possessions by using effective picks to get open looks, by getting their offensive running game going, and by offensive rebounding for easy buckets. Oklahoma's aggressive, active, and intelligently played defense disrupted MSU all night and forced the Spartans into playing a game that is not within their favorite share-the-ball style. The Sooners guarded the Spartans out higher than they would like, and often rushed the Spartans into less-than-ideal shots or allowed them space to move but into uncomfortable positions. The defensive combination caused MSU to shoot only 38% from the field and the Spartans only assisted on 9 of their 22 made baskets.
How Michigan State Fought Their Way Back
After hitting on 8 of their first 11 shots, which included three offensive rebounds for a lay and two dunks, the Spartans' defense settled in to only allow Oklahoma to shoot only 27% the rest of the way. Oklahoma likes to get out in transition, but by the second half Oklahoma's running game had been erased by the Spartans defensive effort and Oklahoma was walking the ball up the court and looking uncomfortable playing in their half-court offense. Michigan State worked their way back from a 10-point deficit with 3:28 to play in the first half to cut the Sonners' lead down to four by halftime. MSU held Oklahoma to only 4 of 17 from beyond the arc on the game, while MSU hit 9 three pointers on their 27 three-point attempts, and the Spartans only allowed Oklahoma to get to the free throw line for 16 free throws.
And Oh, Still Those Free Throws...
With the Spartans up by 3 with 3:43 to play, Gavin Schilling was fouled and Schilling looked like he would rather be about anyplace else in the world than at the free throw line as he rushed both of his free throw misses. At that point, MSU was only 3 of 10 from the free throw line, and two of those free throws had been made by Travis Trice, but then, and yet again, the Spartans made free throws when they needed them as over the final 1:20 Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine stepped up to shoot a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line.
And So, I Guess Our Spartans Can Now Be Called Elite!
It wasn't easy, or perfect, and the margin of error remains thin, but by continuing to make plays down the stretch, by continuing to take care of the ball, (with only 5 Spartan turnovers in this game), and by doing just enough from the free throw line when needed, the Spartans just keep March-ing on.
MSU will now meet up in an Elite 8 battle with Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals who took a 75-65 victory over N.C. State earlier in the night in Syracuse. MSU will play Louisville at 2:20 pm on Sunday. Stay tuned to TOC for the Elite 8 game preview.