In one of the most exciting games of the season, Michigan State was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 85-76 loss to Duke.
After a long and storied rivalry, Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski got the last laugh over Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo, bumping his record against the all-time winningest Division I coach to 4-13.
Co-captain and senior forward Gabe Brown (18 points) and senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. (16 points and 10 rebounds) led the way for the Spartans in what could be their final games in the green and white. Along with redshirt senior Joey Hauser, the three seniors of the team helped buoy an ever-active defense that buoyed them in a strong start and helped them crawl back into the game after falling behind.
The first half was everything any basketball fan could have wanted out of this matchup: a relentless pace, intense defense and both teams going at each other possession by possession with two legendary coaches at the helm. Brown opened the scoring with a jumper before Duke sophomore center Mark Williams quickly answered with a thunderous dunk to tie it, setting the tone that neither team would be denied in one of the most visible matchups of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend.
As the opening minutes wore on, the Spartans defense hung tough despite some of the mismatches presented by Duke’s blue chip lineup. One of the moments that summed up this defensive energy was when sophomore guard AJ Hoggard raced up from behind to pin Williams’ dunk attempt on the glass, a move that spoke to what this game and the stakes it presented brought out in the players involved.
And then, as it happened all year, Michigan State found themselves in another one of the long scoring droughts that buried them in losses and hamstrung them in wins. Duke’s defense played with greater cohesion to force a slew of turnovers and the Spartans missed 10 straight shots in a near six minute scoring drought that saw them fall behind 23-16 after a 10-0 Blue Devil run.
That drought ended when junior center Julius Marble II put it up and in with six and a half minutes to go and one of the wildest stretches of the game began. Michigan State freshman guard Jaden Akins knocked down a three to draw the Spartans within four before Duke freshman Paolo Banchero pulled up for one of his own to keep his opponents at arm’s length.
So what did Michigan State do? They answered with another one from Brown, 28-24. Banchero hit another immediately after, 31-24. Then Bingham knocked his open look down, 31-27. And, after a media timeout, Brown came out with another open look to bring his team within one, 31-30.
On the subsequent possession, Banchero, thinking somebody would be open, slung the ball over to the left corner-only for it to go straight out of bounds, right in front of a gleeful Spartan crowd with Mel Tucker, Mark Dantonio and Tom Crean in their midst.
At the end of it all, both teams had hit a combined five straight threes in a breathless run that electrified The Well and kept the Spartans firmly in the thick of the game. Freshman guard A.J. Griffin got a layup to extend Duke’s lead and break the three-point frenzy momentarily, only for Brown to get another open look from the arc to tie the game at 33.
The Blue Devils regained the lead with a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Jeremy Roach and both teams slugged back and forth in the final couple minute and a half to keep Michigan State at a 39-35 halftime deficit.
Duke opened up the second half with a 7-0 run to put the Spartans in a further hole before Michigan State got their first points of the second half with a put-back from Bingham.
The Spartans hung around down within five and 10 points as they tried to chip their way back into it and Duke managed to get an answer on them in any number of ways, including a reverse Theo John layup and some slick work around the basket from Roach.
But the Spartans just kept answering and ended up cutting it to 61-57 at the halfway point of the half with a three from Bingham. It was more than clear they could hang with Duke on the offensive end, but could they string together enough stops to retake the lead and hold onto it?
As Duke pressed on and Michigan State just kept coming up with something, they got one coveted stop and a clean defensive rebound from Hauser. Standing under the basket, he found Brown sprinting on the breakaway for the wide open dunk to bring his team back into it.
And after Griffin left the game with an injury at that time, Duke’s offense started to buckle a bit. Michigan State found better success by taking turns checking Banchero and keeping the Blue Devils from getting clean looks around the perimeter. As they kept them down, the Spartans whittled it down to a tie off a pair of free throws from Hoggard with under seven minutes to go.
Then, as the defense continued to hold, Walker buried a three to give Michigan State the lead back and Bingham grew it to five with a pair of free throws. Banchero was quick to break Duke’s three-plus minute scoring drought immediately after but with under five minutes to go, Michigan State was more than eager to keep trading blows until the final buzzer.
From there on out, it was an electric and intense finish. Hauser hit the one-and-one to keep the Spartans up 72-69, only for freshman guard Trevor Keels to answer with a tying three. Hoggard almost lost the ball off of a tip from Keels, but drove back to the basket and corked off a high layup. Keels then got fouled on Duke’s next possession but only hit one free throw and the Spartans retained a slim one-point advantage.
Banchero gave Duke the 75-74 lead with two minutes to go. Then, after Bingham forced Banchero to pass, Roach drilled a three to put Duke up four with just over a minute to go. Christie turned it over and Brown frantically fouled Moore to prevent another score.
Moore aced both to effectively seal the win as the Spartans struggled to foul their way back into it. Hauser, Bingham and Brown checked out for what could be the last time and Michigan State’s season ended with a 85-76 loss.
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