MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The buzzer sounded and Tom Izzo walked stoically across the Final Four floor to shake hands with Texas Tech counterpart Chris Beard, no doubt complimenting him on a fine defensive performance.
It’s a walk Izzo has made a lot over the past two decades.
Frustrated all night by the Red Raiders’ stingy defense, and unable to get guards Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid into much rhythm, Michigan State fell once again on college basketball’s grandest stage. The Spartans’ 61-51 defeat in the national semifinals Saturday night was their sixth straight trip to the tournament’s final weekend without hoisting a championship trophy.
It also continued a maddening run of disappointment for the Big Ten, which hasn’t had a national champion since Mateen Cleaves and the Spartans won Izzo’s only title in 2000.
The Spartans certainly had their chances Saturday night.
They trailed just 23-21 at halftime in the kind of defensive slugfest everyone anticipated, and it was still a nip-and-tuck game early in the second half. And even when the Red Raiders pushed the lead to 48-35 — their biggest of the game — the Spartans never quite seemed out of it.
The Big Ten’s regular-season and tournament champions kept pecking away, including a series of free throws that nipped into Texas Tech’s lead. When Aaron Henry followed two foul shots of his own with a big basket with 2:51 left, the deficit was down to 52-51 and the green-clad fans were stirring.
That was the closest the Spartans got down the stretch.
Jarrett Culver answered with a scooping layup for the Red Raiders, and Winston committed a silly offensive foul at the other end to give the ball back. McQuaid missed a wide open 3-pointer on Michigan State’s next trip down floor, and Culver added a free throw to extend the Red Raiders’ lead.
The Spartans’ last chance to make it close ended when Xavier Tillman was stripped by Texas Tech big man Norense Odiase with 1:19 to go, and the Red Raiders efficiently put the game away.
Izzo shook Beard’s hand as the Red Raiders set their sights on Virginia in the final.
The defeats Michigan State has endured in the Final Four over the years have come in all flavors: They’ve fallen as high seeds expected to do great things and low seeds that surpassed expectations, and run into buzz-saws such as Duke and Arizona that were loaded with future NBA prospects and dropped down-to-the-wire nail-biters to the likes of Gordon Hayward and Butler.
On Saturday night, they lost to a team that beat them at their own game.
Izzo prides himself on toughness — in the old days, he’d suit up his guys in shoulder pads and helmets in practice. Yet the Red Raiders beat Michigan State to the punch all night, harassing Sparty on the perimeter and rendering Tillman and fellow forward Kenny Goins ineffective in the paint.
Michigan State wound up shooting 32 percent from the field, went 7 of 24 from the 3-point arc and desperately could have used Joshua Langford, their forward they lost to a season-ending injury.
Winston, who played all 40 minutes, tried to rescue the Spartans in the second half. The Big Ten player of the year wound up with 16 points but he needed 16 shots to get there.
Nobody else gave him much help, either.
The result was a national championship appearance for Texas Tech in its first trip to the Final Four, and another weekend that ended in disappointment for Izzo and the Spartans.