In a game that could easily have been for the national championship, the No. 4 seed Michigan State Spartans outlasted the No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers for a win 61-59 on Friday night in Madison Square Garden.
With the victory, the Spartans advance to the Elite Eight, where they’ll face No. 7 seed UConn on Sunday.
The game had the tenor of a heavyweight fight, with every single possession contested and no easy shots to be found. Neither team backed down an inch, and you got the sense that this game could come down to whoever had the ball last.
Michigan State (29-8) struggled early with the Cavalier’s defensive intensity. They opened up a 31-27 lead at the break.
But the Cavaliers battled back in the second half, pressuring the Spartans and not allowing them to get into any sort of offensive rhythm.
The game was back-and-forth for the final 20 minutes, with both teams snatching and then giving back the lead. Nobody was able to pull away, and the issue was very much in doubt in the closing seconds.
But it was Adreian Payne who made the shot of the night, almost literally the only thing to separate the two teams.
Coming out of a timeout, in which he was chastised by his coach Tom Izzo for lack of defensive hustle, Payne came out and nailed a clutch triple to put his team ahead for good at 54-51 with just over 90 seconds remaining.
The Spartans iced the game at the line, intentionally missing a free throw attempt with 1.1 seconds left in the game to deprive the Cavaliers of the chance to setup a final possession to tie the game.
Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon led the Cavaliers with 17 points each in a losing effort.
Brandon Dawson led the Spartans with 24 points and 10 rebounds.