DETROIT — Against a unique scheme, shots just wouldn't fall for the Spartans.
Even in front of a near capacity crowd of 20,360 at Little Caesars Arena, third-seeded MSU (30-5) missed open looks and key shots from the free-throw line as No. 11 Syracuse (23-13) survived and advanced to the Midwest Region Semifinals, taking a 55-53 defensive grudge match against the Spartans on Sunday.
Wing Miles Bridges was limited to 11 points after he carried the Spartans with 29 points in MSU’s 82-78 win against 14 seed Bucknell on Friday. Guard Cassius Winston scored 13, and forward Nick Ward scored 10.
The Spartans’ last chance at a national title were in Winston’s hands with three seconds remaining. Time expired as he hurled the ball from half-court. But the shot went off the backboard, wide left.
The loss eliminates MSU from the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans' season ended by an 0-for-13 spell from the floor. MSU was also held to a season-low 25.8 percent shooting from the field. MSU’s previous worst was 38.1 percent against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.
Before the game, MSU averaged 50.5 percent shooting from the field.
“We got beat because we couldn't make a shot,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “And I thought we had some good shots. It was really disappointing. We didn't shoot very well from the free-throw line and some of those early were one-and-ones, which means it's worse than the stat shows.”
Syracuse guard Tyrus Battle, hit a jumper with 47.6 seconds left that gave the Orange a 52-49 lead. He finished with a team-best 17 points.
Forward Oshae Brissett scored 15, as Syracuse combined to shoot 15-for-42 from the field.
The Spartans' high-tempo offense struggled to figure out Syracuse's 2-3 zone after starting the game on a 7-2 run. The Orange held MSU scoreless for 4:59 until a pair of free throws from Jaren Jackson Jr. made it 10-9 game with 11:46 until halftime.
“It kind of forces you to take some two-pointers,” Winston said of the 2-3 zone. “You can't really punch it inside, like we couldn't really get Nick Ward involved just because how they played the zone. That would be the only challenge.”
Syracuse also held the Spartans to 0-of-9 from the field in that stretch until a 3 from Winston gave MSU a 12-10 lead with 10:15 left in the half.
“Our defense has been good this whole tournament all the way,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It's obviously been the key for us. We wanted to get to their shooters, and we did a great job of that.”
Both teams exchanged chip shots until MSU guard Matt McQuaid ended the half on a tumbling buzzer-beating 3 from the right wing after his initial shot was swatted and carried the Spartans into the locker room with a 25-22 halftime lead.
McQuaid's only score of the half was MSU's eighth field goal in 11 attempts, while the Orange shot 40 percent from the floor in the half.
Better rebounding and wiser passing helped MSU find an answer to the zone early in the second half. Winston opened the half with a wide-open 3 and a triple from Bridges with 17:45 gave the Spartans a 33-27 lead — its largest to that point.
Syracuse found its way back in the game after another MSU drought that lasted more than 3:40 to make it a 38-37 game with 11:56 to play.
The Spartans — who typically smother opponents with fast-break offense — didn't get their first points in transition until a right-handed slam from Bridges lifted MSU to a 44-39 lead with 7:27 to play.
Howard fouled out with 6:39 to play after picking up his fourth and fifth fouls within seven seconds between whistles. He finished with 13 points, but the Orange went on a 7-0 run to take a 50-48 lead with 3:33 remaining.
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The Spartans were held scoreless from the field the rest of the game.
“Probably the saddest I've ever been in my life,” Bridges said. “I wanted to send my best friend, Tum Tum, out the right way, and our seniors, Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling. And unfortunately, I couldn't do that. That was my only goal for this year, and I'm sad I couldn't do it, but life goes on.
“And — I don't know, just life goes on.”
MSU is 7-11 all-time against Syracuse. Izzo has lost the past five to Boeheim since beating the Orange in the 2000 Sweet 16 at Auburn Hills.
It’s unclear at this time if Bridges and Jackson — both projected to be lottery picks in the 2018 NBA draft — or Ward will return to MSU for another season.
Syracuse will play No. 2 Duke (28-7) next Friday in the Sweet Sixteen at the CenturyLink Center Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska. A start time has not yet been determined.
Duke defeated Syracuse 60-44 on Feb. 24. It was the only matchup between the ACC teams this season.
“These guys just keep playing,” Boeheim said. “They don't worry about that. They just don't worry about that. They just keep playing, and we want to control it.”
Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:41 p.m. on Sunday, March 18.
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