WASHINGTON D.C. — Michigan State's game plan was simple: Dominate the boards against the 10th-best offensive rebounding team in the country.
And it seemingly didn't matter what Louisiana State did Friday night. Shots weren't falling. And when they weren't, the Spartans were there to clean it up.
It allowed MSU a 41-34 rebounding margin for the game and to come away from Capital One Arena with a 80-63 win over the second-seeded Tigers in the NCAA Tournament East Region semifinals.
"We put signs in the locker room," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "We put signs in the hotel rooms. We put signs in the hotel eating area — cut out, rebound; cut out, rebound; cut out, rebound."
Freshman Aaron Henry led MSU (31-6) with a career-high 20 points, which eclipsed his previous record set against Nebraska on March 5. Cassius Winston scored 17 and Xavier Tillman had 12. Freshman Gabe Brown also set a career-best 15 points and had a game-high four 3-pointers.
Henry went 9-of-14 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers and also played a career-high 38 minutes and finished with six assists, surpassing his previous best of four (set twice). In 16 minutes, Brown went 5-of-7 with four triples to better his previous best, 11 points against Green Bay on Dec. 16.
"They had some guys that stepped up," LSU interim coach Tony Benford said. "We wanted to contain Cassius. But you've got to give guys credit. Brown and Henry made shots."
For Henry, he said he wasn't trying to do anything special.
"It kind of happened. Wasn't planning on it," he said. "Just staying in myself and trusting my game, and knowing the kind of player I am, and playing within myself was key."
Tigers point guard Tremont Waters led all scorers with 23 points. Forwards Kavell Bigby-Williams and Naz Reid scored 11 and 10, respectively.
The Spartans advance to their first Elite Eight since 2014-15 and will play top-seeded Duke (31-5) on Sunday (time TBD). For LSU (28-7), the Tigers are eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
"At the end of the day they flipped it on us on the glass," Benford said. "We knew we had to protect the backboard. We had to rebound, protect our end, and whoever won the rebound battle I feel like was going to win the game. And it played out that way."
The Spartans' offense set the tone quickly for the first half, after they made three of their first four shots to open the game with an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes. They also held LSU scoreless until Waters was fouled on a made layup at the 17:26 mark.
Brown entered after Matt McQuaid picked up his first foul and made his first two 3-point attempts on back-to-back shots to give MSU a 16-7 lead with 14:52 left in the first half. After a 3 from Winston with 12:24 left in the half and back-to-back scores from Skylar Mays, LSU was held without a basket for 6:57, in which the Spartans went on a 13-1 run to lead 34-17 with 6:17 until halftime.
Waters hit a deep 3 at the first-half buzzer to cut MSU's 40-28 lead at the break. He also scored the first six points after halftime to bring LSU within four with 17:59 to play, down 40-36.
Instead of calling time out, Izzo decided to keep playing.
"In that stretch, you know, I almost called a timeout," Izzo said. "I don't like to call timeouts because I was afraid against a team like this we'd need them, and those guys made some big plays."
After triples from Brown, Henry and Kenny Goins during a 13-2 MSU run spanning 2:52, the Spartans, leading 60-48, put the game away for good after Brown's fourth 3, which gave MSU a 63-48 with 10:13 to play.
Duke survived No. 4 Virginia Tech 75-73 at Capital One Arena Friday night. The winner of Sunday's game will advance to the Final Four.
"At the end of the day this was our goal, to be in this position," Winston said. "And now we have a chance to accomplish it."
Ward goes down
With 6:57 to play, forward Nick Ward exited the game after falling down on his left hand, caused by a high block in the post from Reid. Ward, who fractured his left hand on Feb. 17 and missed five games, did not return to the game but came back to the bench after undergoing X-rays.
Ward was diagnosed with a bone bruise in an area separate from his previous fracture. Izzo said the Ward, who entered the game averaging 13.7 points, 6.2 boards and 21.4 minutes, is currently questionable for Sunday.
"He says he’s hanging in there, but i’s going to be sore," Izzo said. "The good news is it’s not broke. They’ve already X-rayed it. It’s not in the same spot, but it’s on the same hand."
Winston sets Big Ten record
With eight assists Friday, Winston currently has 279 on the season, which surpassed former MSU point guard Mateen Cleaves for the single-season record for the program and Big Ten. Cleaves had 274 in '98-99, when the Spartans lost 68-62 to Duke in the Final Four.
Winston, however, said he's thrilled to be in Cleaves' company.
"That’s just amazing to be up there in a list of the greats," Winston said. "And he’s one of the greats. Just to be mentioned with him is an honor in itself."
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