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Going to the championship: UConn no match for determined Spartans, 82-73

Spartans to play in national title game at 9:21 p.m. Monday

April 4, 2009

Players on the MSU men’s basketball team recap the Spartans’ Final Four victory over Connecticut. The Spartans take on North Carolina on Monday for the Championship title.

Photo by Cash Kruth | The State News

Detroit — Before his team’s game against Connecticut, MSU sophomore guard Kalin Lucas made a special request.

Instead of being listed as a native of Sterling Heights, which has been the case all season, Lucas wanted the world to know where he was really from.

“Today I just wanted to represent my hometown of Detroit,” Lucas said after the game. “My grandma, she stays two minutes away from here. I have lived with my granny before and I have lived with my parents also.”

Playing quite literally in his backyard, Lucas made his city, school and entire state proud by scoring a game-high 21 points for the Spartans, who defeated UConn 82-73 in the Final Four on Saturday to advance to their first national championship game since 2000.

The Spartans will play the winner of the late game between North Carolina and Villanova at 9:21 p.m. Monday at Ford Field.

“This is a dream come true,” Lucas said. “We came out tonight, we played aggressive. We followed what coach told us to do. He told us to rebound and run. That’s what we did tonight.”

Doing his damage everywhere on the court, Lucas was terrific from start to finish. He scored five of MSU’s first seven points and iced the game with seven points during the last four minutes.

He shot 7-of-15 from the field, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range. He also dished out five assists for the Spartans, who exhibited just how lethal their running game can be.

MSU finished with 22 fast-break points, 18 assists and 11 turnovers. MSU’s bench outscored UConn 33-7.

Toward the end of the game, MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he thought those factors began to fatigue the Huskies.

“We want to run,” Izzo stressed after the game. “That’s what we really do. It’s just hard in our league. I thought we did wear them down a little bit. I thought depth worked on our side. We knew that going in for sure.”

Junior forward Raymar Morgan was on the finishing end of many of those fast-break opportunities. Wearing a custom-made protective mask over his broken nose, Morgan finished with 18 points and nine rebounds for the Spartans.

Morgan, who averaged 2.3 points in his last three previous tournament games, finished 7-of-13 from the field.

“I just got to give (my teammates) all the credit,” Morgan said. “They did a great job. Coach just supported me and just kept telling me to keep on pushing and keep on working.”

Hasheem Thabeet scored 17 points and Stanley Robinson added 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Huskies, who shot 35.3 percent in the second half.

In their final collegiate games, guard A.J. Price (15) and forward Jeff Adrien (13) also finished in double figures for the Huskies.

“I want to congratulate Tom and Michigan State,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said. “This ended up being a game of who made the small plays make the big difference. I really felt their bench was enormous. I thought early their rebounding (and) fast-break was great.”

Leading by four with 14:13 left in the game, the Spartans slowly began to pull away. Freshman forward Draymond Green hit two free throws and a jump shot and senior center Goran Suton added a jumper from just inside the arc to stretch MSU’s largest lead of the game to 10.

After a Thabeet layup sliced MSU’s lead to eight, sophomore guard Durrell Summers electrified a Final Four record-breaking crowd of 72,456 when he launched through the air and gave Robinson a ride as he jarred it through the net.

Summers said the dunk, which put MSU back up by 10, was a game-changing moment.

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“I think it was a big momentum swing for us because everybody got into it and the crowd got into which was a key,” said Summers, who also hails from Detroit. “I think their heads kind of dropped and the game went on from there.”

Although it turned more heads, Summers biggest play of the game minutes later. After UConn had shredded MSU’s 11-point lead with 3:18 remaining down to three, Summers converted on a three-point play with a minute left to seal the victory.

“Everytime we made a run, they did something to counteract that,” Price said. “You know, hats off to them. They finished the game out.”

Lucas scored five early points to help MSU race out to a 9-2 lead, but UConn responded with a flurry of points in the paint.

With most of the haymakers being delivered by Thabeet and Robinson, the Huskies went on a 16-7 surge to take a two-point lead with 12:06 left in the half.

The Huskies extended their lead to as much as five with 10:55 left in the half, but the Spartans rallied back behind the hot hand of their reserve freshman guard.

In the waning minutes of the half, freshman guard Korie Lucious seized the limelight. Lucious put MSU back out in front with a trey from the right elbow and on MSU’s next possession, he drew contact on a 3-point attempt. He made all his free-throws to put MSU up 33-29.

Lucious went on to hit yet another trey as MSU took a 38-36 lead into the locker room despite the fact Summers, senior center Goran Suton, and Chris Allen all finished the period scoreless.

“It was a memorable game that I won’t forget,” Izzo said. “Except we got another one, so we’re going to put it to bed a little later on.”

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