SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Breaking down No. 7 seed Michigan State’s 76-70 overtime win against against No. 4 seed Louisville for the NCAA East Region championship on Sunday:
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT
: After a fast-pace, wide-open first half – the two teams combined for 72 points on 48.3% shooting – the finals of the East Region moved into familiar territory down the stretch: Louisville and Michigan State buckled down defensively in the second half, exchanging brief, back-and-forth runs on the road to overtime. An Elite Eight matchup of two teams cut from such similar cloth could only have gone to overtime, after all. The Spartans took the extra frame, outscoring the Cardinals 11-5 to book a trip to the Final Four. Though the game’s first 20 minutes showed otherwise, it’s only fitting that a commitment to remaining stingy on the defensive end has Tom Izzo and Michigan State on the doorstep of the national championship.
NCAA TOURNAMENT: Spartans 76, Cardinals 70 (OT)
THE BIG PICTURE: Sunday’s win sends Michigan State back to the Final Four for the first time since 2010. This run comes as a slight surprise: Izzo’s team had a largely uneven regular season, losing more than nine games for just the second time since 2006-7, and was the seventh seed in the East Region. His work during the past two weekends simply adds another feather to Izzo’s tournament cap. Louisville’s season, meanwhile, ends outside the Final Four for the second year in a row; the Cardinals made back-to-back Final Four trips in 2012 and 2013, winning the national title in 2013.
THE DECIDING PLAY: It’s a two-parter: first, Louisville center Mangok Mathiang’s free throw with seconds left that forced overtime, and second, a put-back from forward Branden Dawson that pushed the Spartans’ lead to 74-70 with 28 seconds left.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Even while struggling from the floor – he was 4-of-11 shooting – Dawson made a game-changing impact. Most came on the defensive end, where Dawson pulled down nine rebounds and altered more than a handful of the Cardinals’ attempts near the basket. Dawson’s presence became even more vital in overtime after the Spartans lost Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling to foul trouble.
KEY STAT: Louisville led 40-32 at halftime. This was a crucial, based on recent history. Louisville had won 94 games in a row when leading by six or more points at the half.
AND-1: Michigan State entered the Elite Eight making just 62.8% of its free throws, good for 333rd in all of Division I. The Spartans would go 15-of-20 from the line against Louisville, however.
GALLERY: ALL THE ELITE EIGHT ACTION