Destined 4 Detroit
Izzo keeps Final Four streak alive with 64-52 win over Louisville
Indianapolis — At the conclusion of a practice in late February, Tom Izzo instructed his MSU men’s basketball team to walk up the arena steps from the Breslin Center floor and meet him on the concourse. Once the Spartans were there, the MSU head coach told his team to look outside, where the February sun had not yet faded at the 5 o’clock hour.
“He wants us to play a month from now, deep in March when not a lot of other teams are playing. When it will be sunnier out,” senior center Goran Suton then explained of Izzo’s message.
Last week, the Spartans had a team dinner on the concourse in the sunlight before they left for Indianapolis.
It might not have had the same gusto as smashing a video tape, but consider Izzo’s latest motivational technique a success.
It doesn’t get much sunnier than the Final Four.
The MSU men’s basketball team beat Louisville 64-52 in the Midwest Regional Final on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium to advance to next weekend’s Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit.
“It was just as big a win as our school has had because we’re going to Detroit,” said Izzo, whose program is making a nation-best fifth trip to the Final Four in 11 years.
“That’s been a dream and a goal since the day they announced where the Final Four was in 2009.”
In the way was Louisville, the top-seeded team in the entire NCAA Tournament, who destroyed Arizona 103-64 in the Midwest Region semifinal on Friday.
Sunday’s game featured eight ties and 10 lead changes, but once the Spartans took control of the game midway through the second half, they didn’t give it up.
Freshman forward Draymond Green stripped the ball from Louisville’s Edgar Sosa, which was picked up by senior guard Travis Walton. Walton flung the ball upcourt to sophomore guard Durrell Summers, who threw down a one-handed jam to make the score 41-36 and cause Louisville to call a time out.
Minutes later a Summers baseline jumper and a 3-pointer on the wing put MSU up 46-37, causing Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to call another timeout.
“Durrell grew up today. He became a man,” Walton said of Summers, who had 12 points. “What he did for our team today in making those shots was huge. He always steps up in big moments.”
Suton, who led MSU with 19 points and 10 rebounds, was named Most Outstanding Player for the Midwest Regional after the game. Suton averaged 14.3 points and 11.5 rebounds in the first four tournament games.
Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas, who had 10 points and five assists, Walton, Louisville’s Earl Clark and Kansas’ Cole Aldrich joined Suton on the all-regional team.
Clark led Louisville (31-6) with 19 points, while Preston Knowles had 11. Louisville’s 52 points Sunday was a season-low for the Cardinals, who shot just 35 percent from the field in the second half.
“We were so prepared, we knew everything they were going to do,” freshman forward Delvon Roe said. “Whatever set or formation they were in, we knew exactly where the ball was going to go. Preparation is what makes us the best defensive team in the country.”
MSU, which improves to 30-6 — just the third 30-win season in program history — also handled the vaunted Louisville full-court zone press. The Spartans only committed only 12 turnovers.
“Words can’t express how I feel right now,” senior forward Marquise Gray said. “It’s been a long, long, long five years for me … but this makes it all OK. This is what it’s all about. I’m at a loss for words.”
With the win, a multitude of potential story lines are a reality as the Spartans prepare for their national semifinal matchup against Connecticut (31-4) at 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
The Spartans will play on the NCAA’s biggest stage just 91 miles away from their home arena.
Detroit’s struggling economy will see an even bigger boost with thousands of MSU fans within driving distance.
The streak of every four-year player staying under Izzo going to a Final Four won’t end with Walton.
Lucas and Summers, both Detroit natives, will get to play in the Final Four at home — something Izzo “almost (promised)” them during their recruitment.
And, they are going to the Final Four 30 years after the Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Gregory Kelser-led 1979 team won the national championship.
“We’ve gotta move on from here and see if the magic will ride — the dreaming and all the things that go along with an opportunity to play in your home state — and see whether they can come true,” Izzo said.