Saturday, May 21, 2022

Duke ends MSU's season with championship-level run down the stretch

March 20, 2022
<p>Sophomore center Mark Williams (15) hangs onto the rim after dunking during Duke&#x27;s victory over Michigan State on March 20, 2022.</p>

Sophomore center Mark Williams (15) hangs onto the rim after dunking during Duke's victory over Michigan State on March 20, 2022.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

As junior guard Tyson Walker’s stepback three fell through the net to put MSU ahead with 5:24 left, the feeling started to creep into the back of the minds of MSU.

MSU head coach Tom Izzo stalked up and down the sidelines, with a vein protruding from his forehead, screaming defensive instructions to his team. After a stop, senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. got fouled on the rebound sending him to the line. Izzo, beaming with pride, gave a massive fist-bump and nodded his head as Bingham sank the two free throws to put MSU up five.

The crowd roared as the reality of the situation set in. Michigan State had Duke, the antagonist for much of Izzo’s career, on the ropes. 

“It was a game that went exactly like I hoped it would go,” Izzo said. “I just wanted to be there at the ten-minute mark. I think we were six down. At the eight-minute mark, I think we were four down. Every huddle that's all we talked about is we're right where we need to be, and then we went up.”

For 35 minutes, Michigan State did everything it needed to do to pull off the upset. They hit shots, challenged Duke’s superior athleticism with tenacious defense, and played with a level of character to have them in the driver’s seat heading into the final stretch.

The Spartans led 70-65 after monumental plays from Walker and Bingham on both ends of the floor with five minutes left. The building was buzzing with energy as the belief that MSU had what it takes to end Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career looked like it was coming true. 

But, Duke, the two-seed in the West region and top-10 team all season, showed why they have legitimate title aspirations when it mattered most. After Bingham’s free throws put MSU up five with five minutes left, the Blue Devils closed the game outscoring the Spartans 20-6 over the final 4:55 to move on to the Sweet 16 with an 85-76 victory to end Michigan State’s season. 

“We were so good in the last part of the game,” Krzyzewski said.

Thirty-five minutes of near perfection from Michigan State was not enough to unseat a Duke team with multiple future NBA players and end the career of the winningest head coach in college basketball history in Krzyzewski. Instead, Duke surged past the Spartans and closed the door because it had the better players on the floor and they hit clutch shot after clutch shot.

The comeback started with a pirouette from freshman forward Paolo Banchero, who finished with a game-high 19 points, around Bingham for a layup to cut MSU’s lead to three. The Spartans came up empty-handed on the next possession, leading to a reverse layup for junior guard Jeremy Roach on the other end. 

After a pair of redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser free throws, freshman point guard Trevor Keels buried a three from the top of the key to tie the game at 72. Sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard, not to be outdone by his counterpart, sliced through Duke’s defense and flipped up a prayer of a layup off the glass and in to put MSU ahead 74-72.

The circus shot may have been the best individual effort made by anyone in the game, but it turned out to be the last time the Spartans had an advantage. Duke took the lead a minute later on a layup from Banchero.

It only took Duke 2:50 to turn the game on its head and retake control, showing the validity of their national championship aspirations and the difference in talent between them and the Spartans. 

With 1:16 left, Roach, who Izzo called the MVP of the game, plunged a dagger into the heart of MSU and its season. Roach found himself with the ball towards the end of the shot clock and stepped into a three-over Hoggard which bounced off the back iron and in to put the Blue Devils up 78-74.

“I was thinking to myself if I get an open three, I'm knocking it down,” Roach said later.

From there, the Spartans were in desperation mode and could not find quality shots over Duke’s extreme length. The Blue Devils continued to apply pressure to MSU’s throat before finally finishing them off by a score of 85-76. 

“We had a stretch there where we were one-up, and we had two blocks and two turnovers,” Izzo said. “Then in the last five minutes, I think they made every shot.”

Duke finished the game on a 13-2 run and hit its last five field goals. The NBA talent up and down the Blue Devil roster showed why they were a favorite to win it all, while Michigan State faltered under the pressure. MSU continued playing with unrelenting effort but did not have the firepower to handle the barrage.

Michigan State matched the effort shot-for-shot for most of the night, but when it mattered most, Duke showed they were cut from a different and better cloth than the Spartans. MSU could not tread water with them for an entire 40 minutes and now they return to East Lansing with its season in the books. 

“We did everything we could do except maybe guard a little better at the end, take a little better shots a couple times,” Izzo said. “But we'll learn from it, we'll get better from it, and hopefully as I said, great for Mike. I don't want to take anything away from Duke because I think they showed their truest colors.”

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The effort for the Spartans cannot be questioned after taking Duke down to the wire, but the talent disparity proved to be too much to overcome. Now, the Spartans are left with conflicting feelings of being proud of the performance and the grief that the season is over at the hands of a team that played flawlessly in crunch time.

“I want to be proud, but at the same time mad that we're not playing another night,” Bingham said. “I think the guys went out there and played hard from the first half into the second half. We fought. Just some situations, we just didn't pull through.”

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