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2000 team took program to new heights

March 31, 2009

MSU basketball players celebrate after a 89-76 victory over Florida in the 2000 NCAA National Championship game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a 4-day series profiling Tom Izzo’s Final Four teams.

Fresh off making his first Final Four in 1999, MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo knew the 2000 season had the chance to be even more special.

With nearly every key player returning for his senior season — including Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and A.J. Granger — Izzo felt his team had the talent, experience and toughness to win a national championship.

After winning their third straight Big Ten regular season championship to go along with the conference tournament title, the Spartans earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

After breezing past Valparaiso 65-38 in the first round, the Spartans found themselves in a dogfight with Utah in the second round. Trailing 35-32 at halftime, MSU rode the hot hand of Cleaves, who scored 21 points to lead MSU past the Utes 73-61 and into the Sweet 16.

In the regional semifinal, MSU had to dig out of an even deeper hole against Syracuse, who had a 14-point lead early in the second half. But the Spartans once again finished strong, closing the game on a 17-0 run to earn a spot in the regional final.

With a Final Four berth at stake, the Spartans took on All-American forward Marcus Fizer and No. 2-seeded Iowa State in the Elite Eight. The Cyclones perpetuated MSU’s early game woes by building a seven-point lead with about six minutes to go. But once again, the Spartans rallied back to win 75-64.

In the Final Four, MSU had a date with rival Wisconsin, the fourth meeting between the schools of the season. In a classic Big Ten grinder, the Spartans turned a 19-17 halftime lead into a 53-41 victory, advancing to the championship game where they took on No. 5 seed Florida.

Remembered as one of the greatest college basketball finales of all time, MSU defeated the Gators 89-76 behind one of the most courageous performances in NCAA tournament history.

With his team leading by six early in the second half, Cleaves got tangled up with Florida’s Teddy Dupay while driving to the basket. In need of medical attention, Cleaves was carried back to the locker room. Minutes later, despite barely being able to walk, the captain was back on the court.

Cleaves was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, finishing with 18 points for the game. Peterson, Granger and Charlie Bell also made the All-Tournament team, as the Spartans won their first championship since 1979.

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