Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Four-get it: MSU season over after falling to Texas Tech in Final Four

April 6, 2019
Sophomore forward Xavier Tillman (23) covers Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney (13) during the first half of the NCAA Final Four game against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 6, 2019. (Nic Antaya/The State News)
Sophomore forward Xavier Tillman (23) covers Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney (13) during the first half of the NCAA Final Four game against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 6, 2019. (Nic Antaya/The State News) —
Photo by Nic Antaya | The State News

MINNEAPOLIS — When shots were falling for Texas Tech, the run Michigan State was looking for to bring things back never came.

No counter punch. No rhythm. Not at critical times after the Red Raiders inched up the score with drives to the baseline.

Then Tech guard Matt Mooney hit a deep 3-pointer with 12:13 left in the second half, well beyond the arc at the left wing. The next play? One even deeper.

After a basket from Xavier Tillman, Mooney made another 3 to put the Red Raiders up 48-35 with 9:38 to play.

"The basket just got big, and my teammates found me," Mooney said.

Hardly ever does a dagger come before the midway point of the second half. But much like No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 2 Michigan, the second-seeded Spartans (32-7) were picked apart by Tech’s “no middle” defense Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, with a season-ending 61-51 loss before a crowd of 72,711 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"That's how you win games, you know. You make plays," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "(Texas Tech) made some plays. We didn't make some plays. We missed some shots."

All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year Jarrett Culver hit a dagger 3 with 58 seconds left to extend a 58-51 lead and place the game out of reach for MSU, which ended shooting 32.6% on 46 shots from the floor.

"I basically watched every game Michigan State played this year, every interview, every article, and you kind of get to know somebody," Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said. "This is one of the class programs of all of college basketball. Coach Izzo's handshake and kind words to me after the game is something I'll never forget in my career."

Before Culver's 3, the Spartans were able to whittle Tech's lead to 52-51 with 2:54 left. Matt McQuaid had a chance to tie the game with 1:54 to play, but his attempt from deep in the left corner missed.

"He had a wide-open shot, and it just didn't fall," Izzo said of McQuaid's look. "That's the nature of basketball."

Nobody could figure out Tech's unique scheme. Not on the boards, despite a 36-30 rebounding edge. And not in transition, where MSU scored two points.

Texas Tech (31-6)  will play No. 1 Virginia (34-3) in the national championship game Monday (TBD). The Cavaliers, the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference champion, staved a 14-3 run by fifth-seeded Auburn (30-10), after guard Kyle Guy was fouled on a 3 attempt with 0.6 seconds left. Guy, an 81.8% shooter from the foul line, made all three shots to secure UVA the 63-62 win, and lift the program to its first NCAA title appearance.

It marks the end of the season for MSU, the Big Ten co-regular season and conference tournament champions, after Izzo’s reached his eighth Final Four last Sunday with a win over top-seeded Duke.

"We didn't quit, and we came back, but it wasn't really a game that I felt we were ever out of," Izzo said.

Mooney finished with a game-high 22 points and accounted for four of the Red Raiders’ nine makes from deep. Culver had 10 points.

Point guard Cassius Winston, the Big Ten Player of the Year, led MSU with 16, but was held to a season-low two assists. McQuaid had 12, and Aaron Henry scored 11.

"We could have been a lot better, though," Winston said. "I think part of it was us being casual with the basketball or not being strong enough, not executing well enough. We could have did a better job on that part, but their defense was really good also."

The Spartans opened the game shooting 6-for-14 from the field but a 1-for-13 skid from the floor led to 6:33 scoring drought. Tech shot 2-for-11 in the same stretch to build a 23-18 lead after a layup from Mooney with 2:06 left in the first half. Winston ended MSU’s spell with a 3-pointer at the 1:03 mark to cut TTU’s lead to 23-21 — the halftime score.

Henry, McQuaid and Winston were MSU’s only scorers before the break, and the Spartans went 7-for-23 from the floor (30.4%). Mooney led Tech with nine points as the team shot 8-for-26 (30.8%) on field goals.

"We wanted to win a championship," McQuaid said. "That was our goal. We just didn't shoot good. Texas Tech played really good, and we just couldn't get the win."

The Spartans were able to make the Final Four despite season-ending injuries to starting wings Joshua Langford on Dec. 29 and Kyle Ahrens on March 17. It wasn't an easy road for Izzo, but the ride seemingly came to a complete halt in a hurry.

And Izzo was ecstatic about what his team did accomplish. But he said it could take some time to move on from what may have been.

"It doesn't diminish on the incredible season these guys have had," Izzo said. "Probably in a day I'll be able to sit back and look at the incredible journey and the incredible run.

"It's just disappointing in some way."

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