Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 29, 2015
Michigan State is joining Wisconsin in the Final Four. The Spartans outlasted Louisville, 76-70, in overtime Sunday to advance to the program's ninth Final Four.
Get BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart's instant reaction to Michigan State's Final Four-clinching win below.
The star: Denzel Valentine had a strong all-around game. Per usual, he made some unbelievable plays and mixed in a few head-scratchers. Whatever the case, he finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. That helped propel Tom Izzo to his seventh Final Four, as Michigan State aims for its first national title-and the Big Ten?s first-since 2000. Ironically, the Spartans won that championship in Indianapolis, the site of this season?s Final Four. This is the first time the Big Ten has had two Final Four teams since 2005, when MSU and Illinois made it.
The stat: 75, which was Michigan State?s free-throw percentage, as the Spartans hit 15-of-20. The Spartans entered the game shooting 62.8 percent from the charity stripe. Gavin Schilling and Travis Trice each went 4-for-4, with Trice hitting two biggies late in OT to seal the win.
The key to victory: Michigan State has forged a program that is built on defense. And that showed, as the Spartans held Louisville to 35.9 percent shooting (23-of-64).
It was over when: Michigan State trailed, 40-32, at the half. It tied for the most points the Spartans had allowed all season at intermission. But MSU took over in the final 20 minutes, outscoring the Cardinals, 25-11, the first 13:15 of the second half. A Matt Costello layup with 8:57 left forged a 51-51 tie. (Before that, the last time it was tied was at 22-22.) Then, MSU took its first lead since it was 24-22 at 7:40 in the first half when Bryn Forbes nailed a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 54-51 edge with 8:26 remaining. Louisville battled to force OT. MSU immediately took control, with Bryn Forbes hitting a 3-pointer to open the extra session. The Spartans led, 72-70, with 1:04 left. Then, Branden Dawson tipped in a shot and Travis Trice hit two free throws with 11 seconds to ice the game.
What?s next: Michigan State will take on the winner of No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Gonzaga in the Final Four on Saturday in Indianapolis. The winner will play the winner of No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Wisconsin. The Badgers beat MSU twice this season.
Notable: Michigan State?s last Final Four was in 2010. The last time the Spartans played for the championship was 2009, when they lost to North Carolina. There?s a chance for an all-Big Ten title game, if Wisconsin can beat Kentucky and Michigan State can win its national semifinal game. The last time there was an all-Big Ten championship tilt was 1976, when Indiana capped its perfect season with a win over Michigan. The last time two Big Ten schools played each other in the Final Four was when Michigan State beat Wisconsin in 2000 in the national semifinals.
Nation's Best Seven Final Fours In 17 Seasons pic.twitter.com/dbPnvHyLVG— Michigan State Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) March 29, 2015
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|