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Seniors leave their mark on the program

April 7, 2009

Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas and sophomore guard Chris Allen react to a call made by the officials during the 2009 NCAA men’s championship basketball game Monday evening at Ford Field in Detroit.

Detroit — Travis Walton had it all figured out.

The MSU senior guard was going to climb the ladder and cut down the Ford Field net with “One Shining Moment” playing in the background on Monday night, celebrating the 2009 NCAA national championship.

Instead, it was North Carolina and Tyler Hansbrough who lived Walton’s dream, as the Tar Heels beat the MSU men’s basketball team 89-72.

Even though his dream of joining Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Mateen Cleaves in MSU lore didn’t come true, Walton said he was surprisingly content after the loss.

“I don’t feel bad. I thought I was going to be crying and not be able to talk to people. I don’t feel bad at all, I feel great,” Walton said. “I feel like it’s a blessing that I made it here. Nobody ever gave us a chance. Only two teams in America were left in the tournament, so in the rankings we’re going to be the second-best team in the nation, and nobody picked us to be that.”

The same feeling was present throughout the MSU locker room early Tuesday morning, even for the four seniors — Idong Ibok, Marquise Gray, Goran Suton and Walton — who played their final game in an MSU uniform.

Ibok, who played sparingly during his time as a Spartan, agreed with Walton that the team had to reflect on their accolades this year, including the program’s first Big Ten Championship since 2001.

“We might have lost the national championship game, but at the same time we got to the Final Four and we have a few accomplishments to hang our hats on,” Ibok said.

“From our perspective, it’s hard to think of it that way, but a lot of things have been accomplished and we just have to get over this loss somehow and get to the fact that we got some job done.”

After the game, MSU head coach Tom Izzo said that what the players, including the senior class, had done this season was just another important stepping stone for an MSU basketball program Izzo wants mentioned among the nation’s elite — if it isn’t already.

Before what Suton played what he knew would be his last game, he said he was prepared to give 150 percent against the Tar Heels.

Although Suton, who was named to the All-Final Four team, scored 19 points and had 11 rebounds, he also left the court late in the game with a hug from Izzo and a few admitted tears.

The senior center echoed Izzo’s sentiment that the seniors left a mark on the program, and he hopes his younger teammates take note of all they’ve experienced during their NCAA Tournament run.

“We’re hoping we left a footprint in the sand,” Suton said. “… We talked to the younger guys a lot about toughness, about grit and about moving on in the tournament and becoming better.

“I hope they learned from us and I hope they took it to heart and this hits them in the heart. I hope they remember this feeling so hopefully they get back to the Final Four next year.”

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