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MSU men's basketball's season ended by No. 1 North Carolina, falls 85-69 in second round of March Madness

March 23, 2024
<p>Michigan State faces off with University of North Carolina during the second round of March Madness in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 23, 2024. The Spartans are looking to beat the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament for the first time in their history.</p>

Michigan State faces off with University of North Carolina during the second round of March Madness in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 23, 2024. The Spartans are looking to beat the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament for the first time in their history.

For 12 minutes against the University of North Carolina, it looked like Tom Izzo and Michigan State men’s basketball were poised for a patented NCAA Tournament run with an upset over the No. 1 seed Tar Heels.

But, emblematic of MSU’s entire season, the Spartans fell apart after mounting a 12-point lead in the first half. 

In 40 minutes, MSU was everything it had been this season: a fast-paced, experience-led group, a team fighting to stay afloat and a group whose crumbling for even just a few minutes was enough to bury it.

The No. 9 seed Spartans fell to No. 1 seed North Carolina 85-69 on Saturday, ending MSU’s rollercoaster of a season in blowout fashion. It wasn’t that way until late, though, when UNC put the dagger into the Spartans without its best player – senior guard R.J. Davis on the floor.

For the Tar Heels, Davis finished with 20 points – par for the course of his season. Center Armando Bacot scored 18 points, making 8-of-10 from the line and grabbed seven rebounds. Forward Harrison Ingram hit 5-of-7 threes to reach 17 points, while Cormac Ryan pitched in 14 points. 

For MSU, Walker led the way with 24 points but simply didn’t have enough help. Senior point guard A.J. Hoggard scored three points on 1-for-10 shooting, had three turnovers and three fouls. Malik Hall notched 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Outside of Hall and Walker, MSU scored 28 points. 

Michigan State knocked off No. 8 seed Mississippi State on Thursday, out-hustling the Bulldogs and holding their All-SEC First Team guard and center to just a combined nine made field goals en route to an 18-point victory. The Spartans delivered a performance resembling that of only a select few games this season — they would need a similar showing against North Carolina.

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The Tar Heels cruised past No. 16 Wagner in the first round on the back of 42 combined points from Davis and Bacot. Ryan and Jae’Lyn Withers each scored in double figures, too. 

Entering Saturday, the idea that MSU would shut down Bacot and Davis as it did to Mississippi State’s Josh Hubbard and Tolu Smith III was far-fetched. But, if the Spartans could limit the production of UNC’s role players and make shots of their own, they had more than a fighting chance to upset the Tar Heels.

Michigan State came out firing on all cylinders and shocked UNC early. However, it was only a matter of time before the Tar Heels began clicking; and they did – closing the half on a remarkable 23-3 run.

Walker buried two mid-range jumpers in the opening minutes to get the MSU offense in rhythm. Then, with Walker on the bench, the Spartans mounted a 17-7 lead by way of unconventional scoring – Mady Sissoko converted on two straight post-up opportunities, a rare occurrence over his career and Hoggard made a three from the wing. 

UNC brought the deficit back to four, but Walker drilled consecutive threes in transition nearly identical to the way he did against Mississippi State, putting MSU back up 12. The Spartans started 11-for-17 from the field. 

At last, North Carolina got hot on both ends. It held MSU scoreless for over five minutes with high-ball pressure on defense and the Tar Heels were able to take a 40-31 lead into the locker room. At one point, the Tar Heels’ run was 17-0, their 20th game this season embarking on at least a 10-0 run. MSU had only allowed a 10-0 run or worse four times before Saturday

Down nine against the No. 4 overall team in the country, Michigan State’s hopes looked grim with 20 minutes remaining

Akins gave MSU a much-needed boost of life to begin the second half, knocking down consecutive three-pointers before driving and finishing an and-one opportunity in transition. All of a sudden, UNC’s lead was two points –  a critical sequence for the Spartans

The Spartans had plenty of opportunities – a lot of them inside – to continue to push back. But they couldn’t convert any of them: a fumbled alley-oop by Xavier Booker and two blocks by UNC’s 6-foot-3 Seth Trimble. Down four points, Hall grabbed a rebound only to dribble it off his knee out of bounds. Davis banked home a three-pointer on the ensuing possession. 

A 7-0 Tar Heel run to put them up 12 points was the final blow to the Spartans, who kept fighting but could never make another dent

Michigan State finishes the season with an overall record of 20-15 and a conference record of 10-10. Saturday was the last game played in the signature green and white jerseys for graduate students Walker, Hall, Davis Smith and Steven Izzo. Seniors Hoggard and Sissoko have another year of eligibility should they choose to return to East Lansing. 

The Spartans' prospects of making a patented run in March Madness are now over. They will look to revamp and reload this offseason in an attempt to restore the program to its former prestige. 

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