Saturday, July 11, 2020

Great moments in MSU sports history: 2009 Final Four

March 18, 2020
Then-senior center Goran Suton speaks with coach Tom Izzo during the first half of the 2009 NCAA men's championship basketball game held at Ford Field in Detroit on April 6, 2009. State News File Photo. Design by Daena Faustino.
Then-senior center Goran Suton speaks with coach Tom Izzo during the first half of the 2009 NCAA men's championship basketball game held at Ford Field in Detroit on April 6, 2009. State News File Photo. Design by Daena Faustino. —

Michigan State has canceled all sports activities as our community deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time when sports have ceased, The State News is looking back at great moments in Michigan State's sports history. Soon, we’ll be back to a world with sports, but for now, the past will have to do.

Today, we'll be looking at the culmination of a great run for MSU men's basketball that ended close to home: the 2009 men's national semifinal.

We’ll be compiling these moments into a bracket with the MSU community voting on the best one, starting on April 1, via Twitter.

Date: April 4th, 2009 

Venue: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan 

Matchup: Michigan State (2-seed Midwest region) vs. Connecticut (1-seed West region)

The background: After starting off the season 4-1, Michigan State took on the team they would eventually face in the 2009 national title game in North Carolina.  

It didn’t go well, as they lost by over 30 points in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. 

Despite a rough start, the Spartans would go on to win 21 of their last 24 in the regular season, securing a Big Ten regular season title. That momentum was quickly squandered however as Ohio State took down Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. 

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo secured his 12th straight NCAA tournament bid as the Spartans were the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region. They blew through Robert Morris in the first round but faced a stingy USC team led by current NBA players DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Nikola Vucevic in the second round. The Spartans held the Trojans off 74-69 behind a career-high 18-point outing from Travis Walton

The green and white then began their gauntlet of blue blood opponents as they took on the Kansas Jayhawks in the Sweet Sixteen and Louisville in the Elite Eight. Senior Goran Suton scored a combined 39 points in two games to secure Michigan State’s 7th Final Four. 

The Spartans were now on their way to Detroit. 

The game: The energy in Ford Field that night was electric. Separated by under ninety miles, Michigan State had one of the biggest “neutral court” advantages in recent memory. If we’re being honest with ourselves, it was probably louder for the game between Michigan State and Connecticut than any Detroit Lions game ever. Pair that with the 2008 economic crisis that had devastated Detroit in the last year, and this place had an energy that a city in turmoil needed. Unlike our current situation, high fives were a must if you were in the crowd. 

Michigan State faced their third blue blood of this tournament run in the Connecticut Huskies. The Huskies were led by a top three NBA draft pick in Hasheem Thabeet and Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun. This was a team deep enough that had future NBA All-Star Kemba Walker come off the bench, and the game showed it.  

The game went back and forth the entire first half, with neither team leading by more than MSU’s seven-point lead they gained early, but quickly lost. With a little more than six minutes left, UConn took a four-point lead and looked to take the lead and the momentum into the second half. 

Enter Korie Lucious

After banging home a three to take a 30-29 lead, Lucious was fouled by Walker from beyond the arc, and sunk all three free throws. Then with a minute left, Lucious sunk another shot from beyond the arc, to take a two-point lead and the momentum into the half. 

Despite having the momentum, the Spartans still could not shake Calhoun’s squad. Then the crowd began to rally around the hometown team as the offense clicked. Freshman Draymond Green stepped into the spotlight, scoring eight second-half points to gain an eight-point lead for the Spartans.  

With five minutes left, the Spartans were looking for the kill shot. Thabeet looked to dump off the basketball as senior Raymar Morgan, who had 18 points for the Spartans that night, batted away the ball into Durrell Summers' hands. Summers drove down the floor, rose and brought down the whole force of Detroit on Stanley Robinson’s head with a big slam. 

Ball game. 

The aftermath: Despite a magical run to the championship and the home court advantage, the Spartans could not defeat a behemoth in North Carolina. UNC came out of the gates on fire, building up a 24-point lead with five minutes left in the first half. The Tar Heels never looked back, defeating the Spartans 89-72 to claim their 5th national title.  

Kalin Lucas, who scored 21 points for the Spartans in the 2009 Final Four, would return for his junior year, only to rupture his achilles in the NCAA tournament a year later. Lucas has had an extensive professional career, bouncing around the NBA’s G-League and having a few stints overseas. He is currently playing in the ABA league in Eastern Europe for KK Crvena Zvezda. 

Morgan has also had an extensive career overseas. Most recently, he is playing in Russia’s VTB league for BC UNICS. In 2015, he went on to be the Bundesliga’s (Germany’s basketball league) leading scorer at 18.1 points per game as a member of Ratiopharm Ulm. 

Summers and Lucious both bounced around overseas and in the G-League. Before that Lucious was removed from the team by Izzo for allegedly smoking marijuana and transferred to Iowa State. He last played in the Macedonian professional basketball league in 2017. Summers currently plays for the Greensboro Swarm, the Charlotte Hornets' G-League affiliate.  

As for UConn, they would go on to win the 2011 National Championship two years later under Walker and coach Calhoun. Walker would go on to be drafted by the then-Charlotte Bobcats, who are now known as the Charlotte Hornets.  

Calhoun retired from UConn following the 2011 title as the NCAA was investigating possible NCAA violations in the recruitment of Nate Miles. Calhoun is now the head coach of St Joseph, a D-III basketball team located in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he led them to a 26-3 record before the cancellation of all NCAA sports due to COVID-19. 

Thabeet was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies the summer following the 2009 Final Four, but never could find his footing. He bounced around the league, and most recently was cut from the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA G-League. 

 

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