Despite Michigan State's poor regular season, I and many others expected the Spartans to make a run in the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament. Even the odds favored MSU over UCLA despite being a lower seed in the Southeast Region bracket. While the Spartans have had their struggles, Tom Izzo knows how to work his magic in March, so the expectation was for MSU to bring it Thursday night in Tampa.
What ended up happening at the St. Pete Time's Forum for most of the game was the complete opposite of what I expected. Not only did Michigan State lose to UCLA, 78-76, but it played downright awful basketball until the final six or so minutes of the game. MSU trailed by 18 at halftime and by 19 with 6:16 to go.
At that point MSU did finally fight back when a Draymond Green three-pointer got a run started. After trailing by as many 23 with more than eight minutes to go in the game, the Spartans cut the lead all the way down to one point with 4.4 seconds left. MSU upped the pressure on defense and just kept chipping away at the lead. UCLA looked like it was going to put the game away a number of times, but MSU kept battling back, and a Keith Appling three made the score 77-76 in favor of the Bruins with 4.4 seconds to go.
Unfortunately for MSU, the clock ran out on its comeback. If there had been another minute, I think the Spartans would have pulled off the miraculous turnaround given how well they were playing and how bad UCLA looked. MSU did have a chance at the end, though. UCLA made a free throw and then missed one, making it a 78-76 game. Kalin Lucas ended up with the ball after the miss and had an opportunity to throw up a prayer from half court at the buzzer, but he traveled. The clock read only 0.2 to go, and UCLA got the ball. That was it for the Spartans' ridiculous run in the final eight minutes.
Michigan State's leading scorer was Draymond Green, who may or may not have recorded his second triple-double of the season. He scored 23 points, but his rebound and assist totals are different depending on the website. At the very least, it looks like Green had 10 rebounds and nine assists, but it's not clear if he ended up with another assist to get a triple-double. Other Spartans that scored in double figures were Durrell Summers, who scored 15 points, and Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe, who each had 11. (UPDATE: Green's stat line is now 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, so he did record his second triple-double of the season.)
UCLA got a very balanced scoring attack. The Bruins' leading scorers were Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, who each had 16 points. Joshua Smith had 14, and Reeves Nelson added 12 for UCLA.
By hanging on for the win, UCLA advances to the third round to play Florida, the No. 2 seed in the Southeast Region, on Saturday. Michigan State's season is over, and you can bet it will be a long offseason for Tom Izzo and company as they attempt to get things back on track for the 2011-12 campaign.
If you are in need of a printable NCAA bracket to fill out for the tournament, make sure to download SB Nation's March Madness Bracket.