MSU’s Alvin Ellis III, Bryn Forbes, Gavin Schilling, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine leave the court in dejection after losing to Duke 81-61 in the Final Four in Indianapolis Friday 4/3/2015.
INDIANAPOLIS – It all started so well for Michigan State on college basketball’s largest stage, against the most royal of its programs, the shots falling in a flurry and the Spartans jumping ahead by eight. It ended in Duke steals and dunks and dominance. And a lot of arguing with officials, yes, but the Blue Devils won Saturday’s national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium in the first half by capitalizing on the way the game was being called.
Duke attacked and was rewarded. MSU kept shooting jumpers, and they stopped falling. And by the time the Spartans decided to try something else, their season was on garbage time.
Mike Krzyzewski improved to 9-1 against Tom Izzo and got his team to Monday’s national championship contest with an 81-61 rout. Duke (34-4) was the strongest opponent of MSU’s improbable postseason run, but Saturday also was the Spartans’ worst performance.
“It wasn’t one of our better games and I think they deserve some credit,” Izzo said of the Blue Devils, “and yet I feel bad, because I don’t think people got to see the team that won 12 of the last 15 games.”
MSU junior guard Denzel Valentine finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Travis Trice had 16 points in his final collegiate game, capping a dizzying last month for him. Branden Dawson had 12 points and seven rebounds in his final game, but the Spartans were way too sloppy with 14 turnovers, and far too yielding on defense.
“We took some bad shots and had some bad turnovers,” Valentine said. “That was the difference in the game. … We didn’t keep our cool a little bit.”
MSU finishes its season with a 27-12 record and its seventh Final Four in the past 17 seasons, most in the nation in that span. But the Spartans continue to seek their first national title since 2000 and third overall, and Izzo is now 3-6 in the Final Four.
This was his least-anticipated run, though, and he will bring back a team with a chance to make another – despite significant losses in Trice and Dawson. As they left the floor, Valentine grabbed Izzo and told him: “I’m gonna get you here next year, coach.”
Duke got 19 points from Justise Winslow and 18 from Jahlil Okafor, earning a spot in Monday’s title game against the winner of the late game between 38-0 Kentucky and 35-3 Wisconsin. Krzyzewski will be seeking his fifth national championship and first since 2010 on the same floor.
“After the first 4 minutes we found out it was going to be even more difficult than we thought,” Krzyzewski said of a quick 14-6 deficit. “Our kids for the next 36 minutes played lights-out basketball. The defense was terrific. We drove the ball with such strength.”
Trice said any time the Spartans made a mistake, “they made us pay for it,” and that explains the lopsided score despite MSU’s halfcourt defense doing about what Izzo wanted – Okafor didn’t go nuts and Duke made just a pair of three-pointers.
But the Blue Devils ran off those mistakes, shooting 52% from the floor. And they scored 27 points at the line – on 37 attempts, compared with a 10-for-16 night for the Spartans.
A critical second-half possession with MSU down 13 and apparently getting a stop instead resulted in two quick fouls for Dawson, giving him four. Both calls were replayed on the big screen and booed loudly.
“It just hurt,” Dawson said of that sequence, and Izzo said after the game he’ll have to coach and recruit more to the emphasis on “freedom of movement” and touch fouls called on the perimeter.
Then he said: “I don’t want to complain about the fouls anymore. We got our butts beat, and I still think it was mostly our fault.”