Detroit Rock City: Energy From Crowd Powers Spartans Past Huskies
On Saturday evening in Detroit, 72,456 people, the biggest crowd to ever witness a Final Four game, rocked Ford Field with Spartan green.
With two of Michigan State's biggest basketball legends on hand, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and coach Jud Heathcote, the "home" team didn't disappoint.
The first half was a classic battle between Michigan State and the Connecticut Huskies.
The two titans went back and forth playing at a physical, up-tempo pace that lived up to the billing. Hard fouls got tempers to flare, and the refs had to step in and cool things off, warning both teams.
Connecticut was getting balanced scoring from their stars. Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien had 10 points each. A.J. Price and Stanley Robinson both scored seven in the first frame.
Michigan State was paced by the most unlikely of players. Senior Goran Suton, who had led the team in scoring throughout the tournament was held scoreless, but the seldom used freshman point guard, Korie Lucious, picked up the slack.
Lucious, who had only scored three points in the first four games of the tournament, netted 11 points to help the Spartans to a 38-36 halftime lead.
At the start of the second half, it was obvious what both teams' coaches wanted to do.
Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, 4-0 in the Final Four in his career, wanted to get the ball in the post to his center Thabeet.
Spartan's coach Tom Izzo, winner of the 2000 national championship, wanted to run, capitalizing on his teams' depth, physical fitness and athleticism.
On the Huskies' first five possessions of the half, they fed the ball down low to Thabeet, and he responded. Connecticut used an 8-2 run to take a 44-40 lead.
Although the plan to feed Thabeet was working, it seemed that the tempo of the game was beginning to tire him.
He was seen the entire game bending over and grabbing his shorts, trying to catch his breath. He wasn't much of a factor past the first few minutes of the second half.
The Spartans never looked tired going 11 players deep and wearing out the Huskies. At the thirteen minute mark, the Spartans' bench had outscored Connecticut's by 17 points (19-2) and was hurting them badly on the fast break (16-2).
Charged by the crowd, four MSU players scored in double figures, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas (21) and Raymar Morgan (18).
Wearing a mask to protect his broken nose, Morgan had his best game of the tournament and gave the Spartans another dimension. He added nine rebounds and five steals en-route to being named Player of the Game.
Draymond Green, Durrell Summers, and Luscious combined for 29 points and eight rebounds as reserves, illustrating a total team effort by Izzo's Spartans.
The Big Ten regular season champs played stifling defense and built a 10-point lead in the second half, 64-54, on two of Suton's four points in the game.
From this point on Michigan State proved why they are one of the best half court teams in the nation, running the shot clock down on almost every possession. The Spartans used ball movement and great screens to keep the Connecticut defense on it's heels.
On the biggest play of the game, Summers drove hard to the goal and gave Connecticut's Stanley Robinson a facial, manicure, and a shave all at once.
Robinson, who had two blocks on the game, went up to contest Summers' dunk attempt and got posterized. The crowd exploded, boosting the Spartans' already high energy level.
Connecticut went on a late run to cut the lead to three, 74-71 with a minute to go, but again Summers came up big with an old-fashioned three-point play to push the score to 77-71 and secure victory for MSU. Final score, 82-73.
Michigan State guard Travis Walton, who has had the defensive tournament of a lifetime, harassed Connecticut guard A. J. Price all evening. Price, the top offensive player in the tournament for the Huskies, shot just 5-for-20 from the floor.
Stanley Robinson led the Huskies with 15 points and 13 rebounds and Thabeet finished with 17 and 6.
Freshman Kemba Walker, the star against Missouri in the Elite Eight, managed just five points and committed four turnovers in the loss.
In 1979, Heathcote's Spartans, including Magic Johnson, won one of the most historical championship games in tournament lore, defeating Larry Bird and Indiana State.
Thirty years later, the 2009 Spartans are looking to make a little history of their own.
About 60,000 Spartan fans will be there to cheer them on.
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