Derrick Nix fights for a basket in his last game on Michigan State
In their fifth trip to the sweet sixteen in the last six years, 3rd seeded Michigan State basketball was unable to hold off the 2nd seeded Duke Blue Devils in the Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen round in Indianapolis, IN. Earlier in this year’s NCAA Tournament, the Spartans were able to secure wins by using great defense and grabbing rebounds. Michigan State traveled to the Palace of Auburn Hills to take down Valparaiso and Memphis, where MSU freshman Gary Harris recorded his career high 23 points, another attribute of this Spartan team that fans were expecting to see tonight.
Michigan State, now with the final season record of 27-9 (13-5 Big10), has a losing 7-3 series record against Duke. The most recent NCAA Tournament meeting between the two took place in 2005, where the 5th seeded MSU defeated the top seeded Duke 78-68, however Duke took down the Spartans in 2011, with a score of 74-69 in the Champions Classic. Michigan State head coach, Tom Izzo, made his 16th straight appearance in the tourney this year, which is the second longest active streak in the nation, only behind Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who is still making his 18th straight trip.
After a Louisville win just before the Spartans took the court, the red in the stadium slowly turned into fans wearing green who were expecting a great battle between these two teams, which is what they got, in the first half at least. MSU’s Branden Dawson hit the first basket for the Spartans within the first two minutes. The score fluctuated many times in the opening of the game and a nasty hit to Derrick Nix earned another point to tie the game 10-10 at 15:07. With 4:59 in the first half, the Blue Devils lead by 8 points, their highest lead in the first, however thanks to a 4-11 run by the Spartans, they were able to bring the score up and ending the half only down by 1. The 32-31 score changed leads 8 times and the two teams were tied 4 times in the half.
Adreian Payne got off to a slow start today, but was able to catch up in the last 3:35. With a couple free throws and a fancy dunk with a few minutes left in the half, Payne scored all 7 of his first half points within these final minutes, putting him in second for first half points, only behind Keith Appling who had 9.
The second half, however, was the tale of two games. The first half Spartans who put up a good fight did not return the same in the second. With 17:10 left, Duke’s Seth Curry sank a three, making the score 41-38 and giving Duke a lead that they did not let go of for the remainder of the game. Previously in the season, Michigan State had struggled with turnovers, recording an average of 13.7 per game, including five games with 19 or more. Though there were 11 turnovers in tonight’s game, it wasn’t what sealed the game for Duke. Typically, MSU has a balanced scoring attack with all five of their starters averaging 9.1 points or better, yet this is the aspect that suffered in tonight’s battle. Keith Appling led the team with 16 points, followed by Adreian Payne with 14, while the rest on the team each recorded less than 10. After coming off his career record of 23 points last game, Gary Harris only accounted for 6 points against the Blue Devils, by going 2-11 in field goals and 0-3 in three pointers. Payne and Nix also had a combined field goal ratio of 6-20, while the team totaled 20-50 in field goals and 2-13 in threes.
The struggles did not stop there for the Spartans. There was much foul trouble in the second half for both teams, but especially MSU. In the first half, they had 9 team fouls, while Duke had only 4. In the second, the Spartans leaped their personal fouls to a total of 24 and Duke sprang to 17 total team fouls. The influx of fouls took over the second half of the game, where they could not play for more than two minutes without hearing a whistle. However, much of Michigan State’s foul trouble wasn’t just the high number of fouls, but it was also attributed to the Spartans being unable to sink the free throws. Izzo was disappointed in this performance stating, “that one stretch was just free throw after free throw, and we couldn’t do anything about it.” The team went 18 for 24 with a 75% success rate, while Duke hit an impressive 92.3% of their shots from the line. When asked what made this game so much different from their impressive performances last week, Gary Harris immediately said, “Free throws. They’re a big part of the game.” After hitting both shots at the line, Duke extended the score to their largest lead of the Spartans with 3:52 to play with a score of 62-49.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, they were unable to hold of this NCAA Tournament exceling team and the Michigan State basketball season ends here, falling to Duke 71-61. Being the only senior, Derrick Nix ended his college basketball career tonight in Indianapolis, but as Izzo said, “we just gotta lick our wounds and live for another day.”
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