Given Tom Izzo as the Michigan State Spartans head coach has 22 straight years in the NCAA tournament and 52 wins in that time frame, there are a lot of games to look back at over his career. So I decided we could all use a fun debate over what his best win each day of the tournament was through each round. For the previous game recaps in this series, you can find the full list here.
Today brings us to Coach Izzo’s best win in the Sweet 16 for games played on Thursday. Fun fact, of Tom Izzo’s 22 tournament appearances, 14 of those make it to at least the Sweet 16. That means that 63.6 percent of the time, Izzo is coaching his team in the second weekend of the tournament. Lucky fact for this column series I was not aware of when I had the bright idea to pick a game for each day of the tournament: a MSU team under HC Izzo has only won one game on a Thursday in the Sweet 16. In Thursday games, Izzo is 1-2, with a 2008 loss to Memphis and a 2013 loss to Duke. Thankfully, and I am not spoiling anything for you when you find out the year, the 2000 win over the Syracuse Orange means there is a Saturday win in the Elite 8 to come as well. In the meantime, let’s get into the recap!
In reality, even if this game had more competition for Thursday wins, it likely would have won the day. A hometown crowd at the Palace, the number one overall seed, a struggling first half that saw MSU trailing by double digits, an in your face locker room confrontation between players at halftime, and a dominating second half comeback to win and advance, what more could a college basketball fan want?
The top-seeded Michigan State Spartans came out flat in the first half of this one. They managed just 24 points to Syracuse’s 34 by halftime, trailing by as much as 14 at one point. MSU went almost the final 8 minutes of the half without a basket until an A.J. Granger three went in with just 1.2 seconds remaining. The Spartans hit just 3 of their last 14 shots of the first half overall, missing seven straight at one point. Izzo spent the last two minutes of the game sitting on the bench resting his head in his hand in disgust.
Cue halftime confrontation by Mateen Cleaves to call out his teammates for effort and focus.
“At halftime, I didn’t think we were playing hard,” Cleaves said. “I don’t mind guys missing shots. I don’t mind if things aren’t going right. But if you’re not playing hard, then I’m going to get in your face.”
Though, having said that, one does need to mention that Cleaves was scoreless in the first half. However, the senior point guard felt MSU was rushing their shots and not following the game plan as developed in practice. He delivered in the second half, however, scoring 10 points and leading the team with 7 assists.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a look at that comeback though. Returning to the floor from the locker room at the half, Mo Pete hit three 3’s, Cleaves hit two buckets, and A.J. Granger added another as MSU came out swinging. Suddenly it was 49-46 Syracuse in the lead with 12:03 to go in the game.
Syracuse battled on with a small run of their own, but the Spartans quickly responded. Granger hit another three to make it 54-53 Syracuse with 8:58 left, and a Granger layup with 7:04 kept it to one point at 56-55.
While the Spartans still trailed, in stepped Flinstone Charlie Bell with a well-timed lay-up took the lead for MSU again since early in the first half. Syracuse tied it up at 58 a moment later. This would be the Orange’s final basket of the game. Michigan State closed out the game on a 17-0 run, starting with a banker by Bell with 5:18 left in the game. The Spartans would finish the game up 75-58 to advance to their match-up on Saturday with Iowa State.
Morris Peterson had a team high 21 points, 16 of which were in the second half. Andre Hutson and Bell led the team with 7 rebounds apeice, while Bell scored 12 points, 9 of which were in the second half. Granger was second on the team in scoring, though, with 19.
The Spartans shot 47.8 percent from three, and 51 percent from the field. They also out-rebounded the Orange 29-36.