Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Spartans rely on defense to win in Sweet 16

March 29, 2003
Freshman guard Maurice Ager shoots the ball over University of Maryland's guard Steve Blake Friday at the Alamodome in San Antonio Texas. Blake missed the last second shot to win the game ending Maryland's season with a record of 20-10. —

San Antonio - Defense.

It's what the recent MSU legacy has been based on and it's what propelled the Spartans into the Elite 8 with a 60-58 slugfest victory over Maryland Friday night.

The Spartans' stone cold defense suffocated the sixth-seeded Terrapins all night. MSU used both a 2-3 zone and man-to-man defensive system which Maryland couldn't break to get in sync.

And despite a four-minute scoreless drought for the Spartans, one which the Terrapins answered with 15 straight points, Maryland's offense was held dormant.

"We were awfully good defensively," MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. "For the first half and the start of the second, we made it very difficult for them to score. In the half court, we defended really well."

Maryland came into the game averaging 80.5 points per contest, and had scored 75 and 77 points in wins over UNC-Wilmington and Xavier in the first and second rounds of the tournament.

Makes the defensive effort even more shocking - Maryland scored 25 points off 18 Spartan turnovers and nearly all of those points were uncontested layups.

Maryland seniors Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas still paced the Terrapin offense with 18 and 11 points, respectively, but both had trouble in their comfort zone - 3-point land.

Nicholas, who was 5-7 from inside the arc, finished a dismal 1-for-7 from 3-point land. Blake was held to 3-for-9 shooting, including 1-for-5 from beyond the arc, including the last second heave with Alan Anderson's hand in his face.

"We're a good 3-point shooting team," Maryland head coach Gary Williams said. "We came into the game seventh in the country and we finished 2-for-16.

"Most of that was Michigan State's doing. But we weren't doing a good job of getting the ball inside, so they were just guarding tight outside."

Nicholas, who attempted and made a similar 3-pointer to beat UNC-Wilmington in the first round, was double covered by two Spartan defenders during the final seconds.

"Obviously, they played real good team defense," Nicholas said. "They played their style of defense. Every time you are going to shoot, they just get a hand up. That's their style."

Izzo said shielding the first-round hero was his defensive plan going into the game, especially the final 4.7 seconds.

"(Sophomore guard Kelvin) Torbert and Anderson deserve a lot of credit," Izzo said. "We put so much into both Blake and Nicholas.

"Nicholas probably didn't have a great game, but we've had success stopping great players. He did have 18 points, which is above his season average, but we didn't let him get on a role and get going, going, going."

The Spartans will now have to turn their menacing defense to No. 1 seed Texas. The Longhorns (25-6) offense is similar to the Terrapins, averaging 78.9 points per game. Texas reached the South Regional Finals by lighting up its offense in an 82-78 win over Connecticut.

Tipoff is slated for 5:05 p.m. Sunday.

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