Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 61, #1 Virginia 59Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2014
Brian Otskey is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.
Three key takeaways.
- A heavyweight fight. It was a shame that one of these teams had to go home. This game seemed more like a national semifinal than a regional semifinal when you combine the quality of play and the atmosphere in the arena. The defense from both sides was incredible as neither team took a single play off. It was a great battle between two coaches who have instilled heart, toughness and a commitment to defense into their respective programs. The Spartans were down a possession or two most of the early part of the second half but never once packed it in. They kept going to what was working and that was Branden Dawson in the paint. This relentless attitude was also on display when looking at Virginia. All in all, what a tremendous regional semifinal this was. The Spartans earned this victory.
- Michigan State discovered the low post. In a game packed with bruising defense on both sides, the Spartans out-toughed the Cavaliers on the low block. Dawson and Adreian Payne in particular were phenomenal and threw down some thunderous dunks in the process. A second half 13-2 MSU run sparked the comeback and the Spartans guards found their forwards with terrific penetration and interior passing to boot. Sparty scored 30 points in the paint to Virginia’s 22.Tom Izzo’s team had the look of a determined team from the beginning of this game and came up big in a terrific 40-minute effort that looked like the vintage Izzo teams of the past.
- Defense is the name of the game in March. Countless times we have seen mediocre defensive teams get bounced out of the NCAA tournament early, including Creighton and Duke this season. There is a reason that, in the Ken Pomeroy advanced statistics era, elite defensive teams win the national championship. Both teams fit that bill tonight but Michigan State was just a little bit better for all 40 minutes. While Michigan State entered the game with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranked No. 40 nationally, the effort tonight shows that if the Spartans are to lose, it likely will not be because of failings on the defensive end.
Star of the Game: Branden Dawson, Michigan State. Dawson posted his sixth double-double of the season and had an incredible bounce in his step tonight. In what was a bruising defensive game, Dawson was the only player who was relatively un-guardable and had his way inside. His athleticism was something Virginia just could not contain It will be very interesting to see how a now healthy Dawson matches up with a front line as lengthy as Connecticut on Sunday.
- “I think Dawson presents a challenge because he’s very versatile.” – Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon on Branden Dawson’s performance.
- “I thought we had trouble scoring inside.” – Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.
- “When you’re in a game at this level, plays have to be made…and they did that.” – Bennett on Michigan State.
- “As he said to me and I said to him, it’s the way the game should be played.” – Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo on what he said to Tony Bennett after the game.
- “They hit us in the mouth and we just had to stay together. That’s what we did.” – Michigan State’s Adreian Payne on Virginia’s strong start to the second half.
Sights and Sounds: Boy, what an atmosphere. It is safe to say our second game at MSG tonight lived up to the hype and then some. Virginia fans turned out in droves while Michigan State had its always reliable fans out in full force. In particular, Virginia fans were incredibly raucous. The entire left side of the arena was a sea of orange and they were loud throughout. What was most impressive was their fans cheering louder for defensive stops than for shots made at times. Now that is a program that has established an identity and a culture, even the fans are defensive-minded.
What’s Next: After winning that bruising affair, Michigan State will advance to take on seventh-seeded Connecticut on Sunday at 2:20 PM at Madison Square Garden. The winner advances to the Final Four.