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 Elite 8 for games played on Saturday. Fun fact, of Tom Izzo’s 22 tournament appearances, 10 of those make it to at least the Elite 8. That means that 36 percent of the time, Izzo is coaching his team in the third to last game 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 had one opportunity to play a Saturday Elite 8 game. In Thursday games, Izzo is 1-2, with a 2008 loss to Memphis and a 2013 loss to Duke. Luckily, the 2000 run that took us all the way to a banner included a Thursday win over Syracuse and today’s look back win over the Iowa State Cyclones on Saturday. So let’s get into the recap!
I am not old enough that I actually have a memory of this game. Sure, I remember the win over Florida a week later, but this one I have no memory of. So in reading recaps of it, I greatly enjoyed this piece about the absurd officiating crew fans had to endure. The highlight of it is most definitely this:
The scene that best captured this game was Eustachy and Izzo, so befuddled by double-foul confusion with 3:43 left that they exchanged head-shaking comments at midcourt while the refs huddled.
Despite the officiating trouble and the lack of competition as the top choice, this game would be in the running for top wins by Coach Izzo any day of the tournament. Like so many we have already relived in this series, this game had all the components of a classic. Two great teams, a back and forth affair, late game heroics, and the Spartans finishing out strong at the right moment to continue their march through March. Then, sadly after the final buzzer, a personal tragedy as well. However, more on that at the end.
The near universally green clad crowd in The Palace of Auburn Hills, official attendance clocking in at 21,214, got to enjoy a treat in this one. Iowa State kept the game close in the first half. Heading into the locker room it was 34-31 MSU in the lead. However, strong rebounding helped the Cyclones as the Spartans shooting slumped early in the second half.
Iowa State’s Fizer went off around midway through the second half with three straight shots, a layup, a three, and a mid-range jumper to help the Cyclones go on a 12-0 run to seize a 48-40 lead with 11:45 to go.
Andre Hutson finally started shooting for the Spartans, though, and helped narrow the lead to 48-47 with 7:52 remaining in the game. Hutson scored 17 points overall, including nine straight at one point late in game action.
However, at the 5:49 mark, Iowa State had grown their lead back to seven points over Michigan State. But let’s be honest, a seven point deficit for this Michigan State team, even against a team as good as the Cyclones were, was nothing to get worked up over. After all, they trailed Syracuse by 14 at one point in the second half and still won by 17 in the end. Cue dominating Spartan takeover run for the win (helped along by truly awful officiating chaos that hurt both teams, but arguably the Cyclones more).
Successive three pointers by A.J. Granger and Morris Peterson served as an immediate reminder to the Cyclones that no lead would last. Iowa State managed to score just twice more in the final minutes of the game, and would lose the lead for good on a Charlie Bell jumper with 2:54 to go.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game happened next. Mateen Cleaves dished up an alley-oop to Mo Pete who slammed it down at the 2:03 mark to push the lead to 64-61. The Spartan crowd erupted, and served as final notice this game was done in result, if not in regulation.
After that, Mo Pete hit four free throws and Cleaves added on as well. Nurse finally sake a wild three with 44.2 remaining for the final points by the Cyclones. It was moot by that point as Granger finished it off with four straight free throws courtesy of a double technical on Iowa State’s coach Eustachy was ejected after pulling a near Bobby Knight-esque expletive laced rant with just 9.9 seconds left. Final score for the Michigan State Spartans win: 75-64. A few highlights below, and a reminder of tv camera quality advancement:
Granger and Peterson led the team in scoring with 18 each. Hutson added 17, and Cleaves got to double digits with 10 as well. Hutson managed a double-double with his team high 11 rebounds. While the Spartans won the turnover battle a commanding 8-19, they lost the rebound battle 33-27. They also shot a paltry 26.3 percent from three, going 5-for-19.
Unfortunately, after the emotional high of that alley-oop late in the second half, Mo Pete would find out the devastating news his grandma passed away earlier that morning. Described as his “best-friend,” Pete’s family chose to wait until after the game to tell him. “He went from the top of the top to the bottom of the bottom in a matter of seconds,” Izzo said.
Mo Pete would fly to Mississippi later that week for the funeral before joining the team in Indianapolis for their Final Four matchup Saturday night against Wisconsin. His grandmother was able to attend the Final Four in St. Louis the previous year, a loss to Duke. Peterson scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half. Describing the game after he found out the news, he had the following to say:
“She’d do anything for me, and I really felt her with me tonight. I didn’t know she passed away. But I felt here with me all night long. It seemed like somebody was guiding those shots in. When I got the news, it was very emotional. My granmother will always be in here” as he tapped his fist above his heart.