San Antonio - MSU's team effort to make a mark on the 2003 NCAA Tournament is going on to live another day.
The Spartans (22-12) held on over a frantic final 10 minutes to squeak past No. 6 seed Maryland 60-58 on Friday, earning them their fourth Elite 8 appearance in five years. A last second 3-point attempt by Maryland guard Steve Blake to win the game caromed off the rim, sealing the Spartan victory.
But unlike previous wins over Colorado and Florida, No. 7-seeded MSU doesn't have much to be proud of. The Spartans watched a 14-point lead dissipate over the game's final 10 minutes, appearing dazed at times against Maryland's aggressive full-court press.
"It was a different game," head coach Tom Izzo said. "I think we got a little tired, I think they turned up the pressure. That's why they are the defending champions."
A 15-0 Maryland run put the Terrapins into place to steal a dramatic come-from-behind victory, but the play of freshman center Paul Davis in the game's last minute was the difference.
With the Spartans down by two, 58-56, Davis streaked down the baseline on a decoy play to open up sophomore guard Chris Hill. When Davis found himself open in the lane, Hill alertly flipped him the ball and Davis went up for an authoritative two-handed stuff.
After Maryland missed its next trip down the court and an MSU timeout, Davis got the ball low in the post and banked in an off-balance leaner that would be the game winner.
"It's something I'll probably never forget," Davis said. "I'm just glad we won.
"We obviously had a bad last couple minutes, but I don't think we're ready to go home. I didn't have a great game, but the last two plays I had to get it done just for me and the team."
Davis finished with 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting and grabbed 5 rebounds.
After Davis nailed the game winner with 4.7 seconds remaining, Maryland head coach Gary Williams thought his squad was in a position to win.
"Because we had been winning close games I thought we would win the game with 4.7 seconds left," WIlliams said. "I thought Steve was going to make it when he took it. I thought it was going in."
Instead, the ball hit iron and the defending national champions were left in the wake of MSU's unanticipated tournament success.
Maryland's loss snapped the Atlantic Coast Conference's 23-year streak of fielding an Elite 8 team and gave the Big Ten a five-year streak in the same category.
In attendance at San Antonio's Alamodome for MSU's nail-biting win was a small army of past Spartan greats. Earvin "Magic" Johnson spoke to players at the team hotel and San Antonio Spurs Kevin Willis and Steve Smith were on hand to lend support to their alma mater.
The win places MSU in the South Regional Championship game against No. 1 seed Texas at 5:05 p.m. Sunday. The winner of that game will continue on to the Final Four in New Orleans next weekend.
The bare-bones MSU win will certainly give Izzo plenty to mull over before the Spartans face the Longhorns.
"We will have to pick up the intensity, first of all," Izzo said. "We do have similar programs."
"This is about survival and moving on," Anagonye said. "They came out and played over their heads. We'll expect more from them, and I'm proud."
Izzo attributed the sentiments of Anagonye, offering a glimpse into an optimistic postseason future should the freshmen keep their act up.
"Freshman are molding with the upperclassmen a bit," Izzo said. "I don't know where this takes us, but it's a start."