As attendants peeled nameplates off stalls in a subdued locker room on Saturday night, Michigan State forward Nick Ward offered an admission that’s become familiar among Texas Tech’s NCAA tournament opponents by this point: The Red Raiders’ defense gave them even more to handle than they expected.
“It’s tougher than what you think,” Ward said.
In a national semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium that pitted two of the nation’s stingiest defenses against one another, Michigan State — the only program left in the field with a legitimate claim as one of college basketball’s blue bloods — went home as the one that could not solve its opponent’s gambit. While the Red Raiders held teams to the second-lowest field goal percentage in the country this season, the Spartans came into Saturday night’s game confident they would be able to find some consistency from an offense that had shot at a 48.4 percent clip — the 17th-best in the nation — this season.
Instead, Michigan State fell 61-51, as Red Raiders guard Jarrett Culver made up for an inconsistent offensive night by haranguing Cassius Winston, the Big Ten player of the year. The junior guard went 4-for-16 from the field, as Michigan State hit just 31.9 percent of its field-goal attempts for the night.
Texas Tech. on the other hand, was able to mount some second-half consistency against a defense that had the country’s third-best defensive field goal percentage. Though the Red Raiders shot only 43.1 percent from the field, they were able to hit 56 percent of their shots in the second half, building a 12-point lead with nine minutes to play.
The Spartans’ chance to pull within four points resulted in an ugly off-balance air ball from Matt McQuaid with 6:22 left, and McQuaid had another three rattle out with less than two minutes to go.
On Michigan State’s next possession, Norense Odiase stripped forward Xavier Tillman of the ball with 1:32 left, and then Culver hit a three-pointer to effectively seal the game.
“It was tough, because we’re not used to a team forcing us one way and having to counter for that force,” Tillman said. “They didn’t let us go middle, but at the same time, they didn’t just give us a layup. If someone was there for a charge, or if somebody was there to block a shot, it was just tough, because you’d think you’d have them, but then they would come back with a countermove and get a block or a turnover or something like that. The last play of that game, that big ripped the ball from me. They just had great ball pressure.”
The Spartans, playing in their sixth Final Four since their 2000 national championship, lost in the semifinals for the fifth time.
“On our national championship rings, [it says] ‘PPTPW — Players Play, Tough Players Win,’ ” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.
“Very seldom in my career have we kind of got beat up, and tonight was one of those nights.”