Semifinals Rewind: UNC & MSU to Play For Title

    
April 5th, 2009

There were questions in regards to just how much of a factor the pro-Michigan State crowd would be in the first semifinal. While the majority of a record 72,456 people was heard throughout the Spartans’ 82-73 victory, Connecticut had a much tougher time boxing out the five eligible players on the floor. Although the teams tied with forty-two rebounds apiece, the Spartans took advantage of their eighteen offensive caroms and controlled the flow of the game in the second half.

 

Point blank the Big Ten champions were the tougher team on the Ford Field floor, playing with a blue-collar style that has been a trademark of Tom Izzo’s program since the day he took over for mentor Jud Heathcoate. Michigan State attempted thirteen more field goals than the Huskies, and other keys to their victory included the bench and their ability to get out and run. Stereotyped as a plodding club since they represent the Big Ten, Michigan State prefers to look for opportunities to run up the backs of their opponents and they did just that against Connecticut.

 

Michigan State outscored the Huskies 22-10 in fast break points, including 16-6 in the final twenty minutes. Kalin Lucas led the Spartans with twenty-one points, but the star was forward Raymar Morgan. Morgan, who struggled with his health throughout the year due to walking pneumonia and mononucleosis, finished with eighteen points and nine rebounds in the win. The better-fitting facemask to protect his broken nose seems to have done the trick, allowing Morgan better vision on the floor.

 

“The mask felt great; it's a perfect fit for me,” said Morgan after the game. “It's a lot better seeing-wise. I can see out of my peripheral, so it's a great fit.” Not only was he more accurate from the field (7-for-13), Morgan was also more aggressive Saturday night as opposed to the Midwest Regional Final against Louisville. But the two stars had help on Saturday in all areas. Frontcourt starters Delvon Roe and Goran Suton didn’t score very well (four points apiece) but they did combine to grab fifteen rebounds. And the bench cannot be ignored, taking a small advantage before the game and turning it into one of the deciding factors.

 

Michigan State outscored Connecticut’s reserves 33-7 on the evening, with Durrell Summers (10 points, 6 rebounds) and Korie Lucious (11 points) doing the most damage. Lucious was hot in the first half, scoring all eleven of his points to help send the Spartans into the locker room with a 38-36 halftime lead. Summers was one of the guys who provided added toughness, and he also gave the Tournament it’s best individual play with his second half dunk over Stanley Robinson.

 

“We thought we had depth over them,” said head coach Tom Izzo. “That's why we had to run and wanted to run. We could run if we could rebound and we rebounded the ball pretty well.”

 

The Huskies were able to hang around for much of the second half, but Michigan State was able to put together what turned out to be a decisive second half run on the heels of Connecticut’s 4-for-4 start. All of a sudden banging the ball inside wasn’t working, with missed shots and turnovers compounded by missed foul shots. UConn shot 63.6% from the charity stripe for the game, but that doesn’t do justice to their struggles in the middle portion of the game. When going up against a team as efficient on offense as Michigan State you can’t afford to leave points on the floor, and that’s exactly what Jim Calhoun’s team did.

 

“Both teams had an enormous amount of runs, it was who is going to make that play, make those foul shots, which we didn't in the second half. That made a difference,” said Calhoun. Four Husky starters finished in double figures, with Hasheem Thabeet leading the way with seventeen points. A.J. Price and Stanley Robinson (Robinson also had thirteen boards) each scored fifteen, but the senior point guard was harassed into a 5-for-20 night by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Travis Walton. Connecticut was able to get the ball inside, but their inability to punish the Spartans on the perimeter eventually caught up to them.

 

After falling behind by ten with 7:05 to go (64-54), just about every spurt that Connecticut tried to extend into a run was put out by a Spartan score off of an offensive rebound or quality shot produced by their set offense. Finally with all of their key parts healthy, Michigan State offers up a potent opponent on Monday night, no matter where the game would be played.

 

North Carolina jumps on Villanova early and keeps them at a distance throughout.

 

The worry for the Tar Heels coming into their second consecutive Final Four appearance was to avoid getting blitzed out of the gates. Last year in San Antonio North Carolina fell behind eventual champion Kansas 40-12 in the first half, and despite closing to within four Carolina lacked the energy needed to get over the hump. No worries tonight, with the Tar Heels starting out hot while Villanova reverted to bad habits and stuck to firing up three-pointers. Jay Wright’s team can definitely shoot the basketball, but they’re at their best when they attack via dribble penetration.

 

The result was North Carolina racing out to a 40-23 lead, leading by nine (49-40) at the half thanks to 67% shooting from the field. Ty Lawson led the way with twenty-two points, and had he not gone just 10-for17 from the foul line the junior could have sparked an even worse beating than the 83-69 final. The Wildcats were able to fight back into the game, getting as close at 50-45 early in the second half, but their poor perimeter shooting (5-for-27, 18%) combined with timely three-pointers from Wayne Ellington (20 points) and Danny Green spelled doom for a school making its first Final Four trip in twenty-four years.

 

 

“I think it was big for us to come out and share the basketball and get easy ones,” said Ellington. “We built some confidence, and we went from there.”

Tyler Hansbrough posted a double-double, countering Dante Cunningham’s twelve points and twelve rebounds with eighteen and eleven. Outside of Shane Clark and Reggie Redding no one shot the ball well for Villanova, with the Wildcats shooting 32.9% from the field and failing to take advantage of seventeen more field goal attempts. Carolina shot 50% from behind the arc and outscored Villanova from behind the arc by eighteen. The one concern for North Carolina going into Monday night: rebounding. They were a minus-4 (50-46) on Saturday night, and in Michigan State they’ll encounter a far more imposing team when it comes to interior height and depth.

 

An unsung hero for North Carolina was guard Bobby Frasor, who came off the bench to grab seven rebounds (five offensive) to help counteract an aggressive opponent. “I think he showed some sense of urgency and effort on that,” said head coach Roy Williams of the senior’s performance. Without the rebounding of Frasor, Hansbrough, Lawson (seven boards) and Ellington (nine rebounds) it could very well be Villanova talking about a miraculous comeback. Instead, North Carolina gets a shot at history and adding another impressive line to the legacy of their senior class.

 

Scottie Reynolds led Villanova with seventeen points but shot just 6-for-18 from the field on the night. Two other key players who struggled from the field were Dwayne Anderson (2-for-12) and Corey Fisher (5-for-19), and while both were active and helped out immensely on the boards the poor shooting was too much to overcome. The Villanova that we saw tonight didn’t play at the same level they did over the last two weekends, and their opponent had an awful lot to do with that.

 

“We've been getting better every game. We did not get better this game,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “There are a number of reasons. Probably the main reason, though, is we played a better team tonight.”

 

Saturday Superlatives

 

Player of the Night: North Carolina guard Ty Lawson (22 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists)

 

Team of the Night: Michigan State (expect an even greater “home court” advantage on Monday night)

 

Clutch Performances of the Night: North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington (20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan (18 points, 9 rebounds)

 

Play of the Night: Michigan State forward Durrell Summers’ second half dunk on Connecticut’s Stanley Robinson

 

Quote of the Night:  “I think when [they’re] watching us, just the fact that we’re in the Final Four, I think they kind of forget about they hard times. That's one thing we talked about is bringing hope to the city, kind of for a whole weekend. People forgetting about their problems [and] what they’re going through; just focusing on us and focusing on Michigan State.” - Michigan State senior guard Travis Walton