Friday, January 28, 2022

Altogether sweet

The men

March 25, 2005

Dwight D. Eisenhower was still president. n Alaska was just admitted into the Union. n The last time MSU beat Duke was Dec. 29, 1958. n Now, a little more than 46 years and five losses later, the Spartans are out for revenge as they look to end that losing streak to the Blue Devils and try to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years. The two teams square off at 7:10 p.m. today at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

"It's going to be a tough game," freshman guard Drew Neitzel said. "You don't get a second chance much, anytime in life, and to play a team a second time in the season, you have to make the most of it. We're anticipating a great game and we're looking forward to it."

Neitzel is speaking of MSU's loss to Duke in his first-ever road game as a college athlete. This time, the winner of this game advances to the Elite Eight to face Kentucky or Utah - much more on the line.

"What a way to get to the Final Four if you have to play Duke and maybe Kentucky," MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. "You can't beat that road and it would be a road that any college player wants."

In fact, Izzo has built his program to be like Duke.

"They're the program I respect greatly because of what they've done on the court and off the court and for the number of years they've done it," he said.

"Yet, comparatively, I'm tired of them beating us. I'm tired of our program losing to their program, but I still have great respect."

In the Nov. 30 meeting between the two teams earlier this season, Duke won 81-74. MSU's free-throw shooting failed down the stretch.

"It was a great game," senior guard Chris Hill said. "(Daniel) Ewing and (J.J.) Redick had unbelievable games and we can't allow that to happen again."

But Izzo doesn't feel that the team can take much out of that meeting in Durham, N.C.

"The only way it carries is that there's some confidence that we can (win)," Izzo said. "I don't think we were as good a team, I don't think our wings were as good then, but I think (Duke) improved, too."

A key matchup inside will be MSU junior center Paul Davis against Duke forward Shelden Williams.

In the previous meeting, Davis outscored Williams 17-10, but Williams outrebounded Davis 12-10.

Izzo is confident in Davis' abilities inside against Williams, especially after his performance against Old Dominion's Alex Loughton and Vermont's Taylor Coppenrath, each Player of the Year in their respective conferences.

"This past weekend helped (Davis)," Izzo said. "He's better equipped (for Williams) because he's been playing better defensively."

Davis, who had breakout games in MSU's 2003 run, doesn't need much motivation. It's already there.

"Warm weather, Sweet 16, only you and 15 other teams, there's a lot of things that are getting us going for this game," Davis said. "We're just happy for the opportunity to be there."

This will be the MSU senior's second trip to the Sweet 16 in four years. Duke has made it each of the last four years.

"We can use that experience of being to a Sweet 16 and playing in one before," Hill said. "Duke's done it, too, many times, so they're going to have the experience on their side."

On offense, the Blue Devils have a deadly combination in the backcourt of Redick and Ewing, who combined for 58 points against the Spartans in November.

"Redick has really stepped up this year," Izzo said. "He went from a really good player to a Player of the Year candidate. He's taken his game, not one level, but two levels higher."

But, many of the Spartans have been here before and are facing a familiar foe, the team is comfortable and confident in what it can accomplish.

"Now, we know we're playing a very good team and it's nothing that we haven't had before or can't handle," Davis said.


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