Austin, Texas - It took MSU extra sessions of basketball, but when the dust settled and the smoke cleared, the Spartans survived in double overtime against Kentucky, 94-88, on Sunday night to advance to the Final Four.
In the Spartans' fourth trip in seven years to the Final Four, MSU will take on No. 1 seed North Carolina on Saturday in St. Louis.
"The first Final Four is like your first kiss, so it's hard to compare," MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. "After what these guys have been through, maybe it's the most satisfying because it's so hard to get back."
Kentucky guard Patrick Sparks sent the game into the first overtime with a controversial 3-point jumper at the buzzer.
With 12.6 seconds to play, Kentucky put the ball into the hands of Sparks, who, after several misses, took a shot that bounced around the rim before going in.
After a lengthy review, officials declared that Sparks' foot, which appeared to be on the line, was not, and declared it a 3-point field goal, tying the game.
"It seemed like it was lasting for eternity," Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith said about the review time. "A great effort on Patrick Sparks' part and our team's part. That was very dramatic.
"It will go down in history as a great college basketball game. It hurts right now. I'm sure these guys will appreciate it later on."
MSU came out flat in the first overtime session, with Kentucky taking a four-point lead before sophomore guard Shannon Brown hit a 3-pointer to bring the Spartans within one with less than 4 minutes to play. He finished with a game-high 24 points.
Then, with the game tied at 81 and with 25 seconds left, the Wildcats had a chance for the last shot. But Kentucky swingman Kelenna Azubuike dribbled out the clock without attempting a shot, sending the game into a second overtime.
Azubuike fouled MSU senior guard Kelvin Torbert quickly - his fifth - just four seconds in, but Torbert split the pair.
Two free throws by junior guard Maurice Ager put MSU up by three and then, with just more than two minutes left, Davis followed up Anderson's miss with a jam, giving MSU a five-point lead.
"(Alan) drew a couple of guys and it left the lane wide open," Davis said. "I wanted to put my two cents in, in this great win.
"It was a battle on both sides; I don't think it's hit us yet, but I'm sure it will when we get home."
A lay-in by Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes made it 88-86 and the Wildcats then fouled with about 13 seconds to play, sending Anderson to the line for two. Unlike the game against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, Anderson hit them both, putting the Spartans ahead by four, 90-86.
A layup by Wildcats guard Rashan Rondo made it 90-88 and the ensuing inbound sent Anderson to the line once again. Tobert's two free throws finally iced it, 94-88.
"There was never any doubt from anyone on this team," MSU senior guard Chris Hill said. "We refused to let any doubt creep into our minds."
MSU led by as many as seven midway through the first half, but Sparks was on fire, hitting 4-of-5 field goals from behind the 3-point arc in the half. Sparks made five 3-pointers in the game and finished with 15 points.
But equally impressive was Ager, who hit both of his 3-point attempts and matched Sparks with 12 points in the half and 21 in the game.
Rondo, who was shooting 64.3 percent in the tournament coming into the game, played just three minutes in the first half. He picked up two quick fouls that sent him to the bench for the rest of the half. He finished the game with seven points.
The Spartans were able to enter the second half down by just four, despite only shooting 36.7 percent in the half.
Closing the gap
Just like Friday against Duke, MSU came out firing at the start of the second half, shutting down Sparks and getting two quick buckets, including a 3-pointer from Brown to take the lead.
Hill ended his tournament-long 3-point shooting slump with a trey that rolled out and back in. But a three-point play by Kentucky guard Joe Crawford tied the game at 53, despite MSU shooting 80 percent from the field in the first nine minutes.
After two straight 3-pointers from Brown to give MSU a 59-55 lead, a flurry of action 12 minutes into the half resulted in Anderson scoring five quick points. He hit a 3-pointer, then, after an Ager diving steal at the other end and a pass from Hill, he hit a running bank shot on the wing to give MSU a 66-58 lead and forced Smith into a timeout.
The Spartans held a 72-66 lead, but Kentucky was able to find guard Ravi Moss wide open for a 3-pointer to cut the MSU lead down to three points.
After Davis split a pair of free throws, Kentucky came down the court and found Azubuike for a 3-pointer to pull within one, 73-72. The Wildcats pulled Bradley, who was injured, and let Sparks take the free throws on a 1-and-1. Sparks missed the front end and the ball went out of bounds to MSU.
Several seconds ticked off the clock before Brown was fouled, who went to the line for a 1-and-1. He hit both free throws, with the second setting a career high in points with 21. And then Sparks' 3-pointer with his foot barely on the line forced overtime.
MSU's group of seniors, Anderson, Hill, Torbert and guard Tim Bograkos, were criticized for their lack of toughness. But now, the seniors can say they can, and have won, when it counts.
"I feel everything happens for a reason," Anderson said. "It's like the period at the end of a sentence, for us seniors stepping up."
Staff writer Brian Charlton contributed to this report.