Playing before 72,456 fans at Detroit”s Ford Field – the largest crowd ever to witness a Final Four – Michigan State used the hometown energy to muscle past favored Connecticut, 82-73, last Saturday night.
That semifinal was followed by North Carolina’s 83-69 trouncing of Villanova, but a good portion left after the first game. The two met Monday for the men’s college basketball crown.
Now who said a crowd can’t help? Only 92 miles from their East Lansing campus, Michigan State had its best and most-efficient effort during this five-game tournament run.
The Spartans (31-6) rely on rugged post and perimeter defense, and a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to rebounding.
Michigan State, which led, 71-60 with 3:18 left, and 80-73 with 30 seconds showing, had two more offensive rebounds than the Huskies (18-16), and each finished with 42.
The edge should have gone to Connecticut, which has 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet.
Despite his height and wingspan, Thabeet was minimized, scoring a team-high 17 points, but with only six rebounds and two blocked shots.
Husky power forward Stanley Robinson grabbed 13 rebounds, tallied 15 points, and swatted away two shots. Small forward Jerry Adrien scored 13 points and picked off seven rebounds.
Connecting from three-point range was a huge difference for the Spartans, hitting six of 19. The Huskies (31-5) made two of six. Plus, Michigan State had 22 fast-break points to 10 for the Huskies.
Four Michigan State players scored in double figures, with point guard Kalin Lucas dropping in a game-best 21 points with five assists.
The Spartans received an unexpected scoring source from Raymar Morgan, who added 18 points. Morgan also pulled down nine caroms.
Guard Travis Walton scored two points for the Spartans, but limited the Huskies’ A.J. Price to five-of-20 shooting from the field. Price finished with 15 points, but they were hard-earned.
Another surprise was Korie Lucious, who made two of five three-pointers, and finished with 11 points, while Durrell Summers tallied 10, including a monster slam dunk over Robinson that gave the Spartans a 10-point lead with less than six minutes left.
With 16:56 showing in the second half, Michigan State led 46-44, and 53-49 with 13:05 left.
The game was still up in the air with 11:40 on the clock, as the Spartans were in front, 55-51, before going on a 7-3 spurt and 7:07 left.
Expected to be close, with 14:27 remaining in the first half, the Spartans were ahead, 14-10, but the Huskies stormed back to take a 19-16 lead and 11:40 showing.
Connecticut pulled in front, 29-27, with 3:36 on the clock, before Michigan State outscored them, 11-7, and led, 38-36, at the intermission.
All five Tar Heels starters average double figures, and four followed suit. Point guard Ty Lawson scored 22 points with seven assists, and shooting guard Wayne Ellington (20 points) nailed five-of-seven three pointers.
North Carolina (33-4) made 11 of 22 from the three-point arc, and were out-rebounded by the Wildcats, 53-48.
Center Tyler Hansbrough pulled down 11 rebounds and scored 18 points, while small forward Danny Green added 12 points for the Heels, who led 49-40 at the half.
Scottie Reynolds paced Villanova (30-8) with 17 points, followed by Reggie Redding’s 15 points, and Dante Cunningham’s 12 points with 12 boards.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.