Spartans reach goal of hometown

Published 10:18 am Monday, March 30, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Even before Michigan State’s first game of the season, coach Tom Izzo gathered his players and spelled out their goal.

‘‘Ford Field,’’ he wrote on a dry-erase board.

That part of the Motown mission is now complete.

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The Spartans gave the Final Four a hometown feel, stopping overall No. 1 seed Louisville 64-52 Sunday to win the Midwest Regional.

Goran Suton had 19 points and 10 rebounds as the second-seeded Spartans (30-6) played the pace game to perfection and reached their fifth Final Four in 11 years — the most trips of any team in the nation during that span.

Only 90 miles from their campus in East Lansing, the Spartans will play Connecticut on Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit. A crowd of 72,000, the largest ever for college basketball’s signature event, is expected for each game.

‘‘Detroit, here we come,’’ said Izzo, a Michigan native. ‘‘I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that.’’

The Spartans made it 30 years after Magic Johnson led them to a national title over Larry Bird and Indiana State.

‘‘Detroit needs something, Michigan needs something to feel good about,’’ said Johnson, who was at the game. ‘‘And right now, the whole state is feeling good about this Michigan State team.’’

Along with advancing, the Spartans prevented a Big East blitz in the Final Four — coach Rick Pitino and Louisville (31-6) were trying to become the third school from the power-packed conference to make it.

‘‘They were the better team,’’ Louisville’s Terrence Williams said. ‘‘They were quicker than us, their defense was more physical and we couldn’t turn them over like we wanted to.’’

Next week’s short trip will be a special treat for many Spartans — eight Michigan residents are on the roster.

Durrell Summers, who delivered 10 second-half points, grew up in Detroit. Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, was raised 10 minutes from the giant stadium.

Michigan has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates and Detroit’s economy, which is heavily reliant on the flailing auto-making industry, has been reeling. The team is certainly aware of the state’s plight.

‘‘I’m just hoping we’re a silver lining in what’s been kind of a cloudy year for us,’’ Izzo said. ‘‘I’m hoping that we’re the sunshine, I’m hoping we’re something to embrace.’’

After traveling to Indianapolis, Minneapolis and back to Indianapolis the last three weekends, the Spartans showed their zeal at the end.

Exuberant players were hugging with more than a minute to go, and as the buzzer sounded, Isaiah Dahlman tossed the ball high into the air as players and coaches jumped for joy, then took part in a group hug just in front of the bench.

‘‘One thing we told ourselves was that we was going to get back there (Detroit),’’ Lucas said.

The game went nothing like Louisville expected.

Its vaunted pressure defense produced no fastbreak points. After committing nine turnovers in Friday’s 39-point rout over Arizona, the Cardinals matched that total in 18 minutes Sunday. They opened the game on a scoring drought that lasted nearly four minutes.

And two days after scoring 103 points, they barely avoided setting a new a season-low point total thanks to Earl Clark’s 3-pointer with 12 seconds left. Louisville scored 51 points against Connecticut on Feb. 2.

The biggest problem was Michigan State’s aggressive man-to-man defense, which kept Louisville out of sync all day.

‘‘I think that was our biggest problem, the fact that the last six, seven games we probably have had 90 percent zones,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘We got very good at going against zones, but that man-to-man gave us trouble tonight because our inside attack wasn’t there.’’

The combination sent Louisville to its second straight regional final loss and marked the third straight year Pitino’s team was eliminated on the second day of a weekend.

But Pitino didn’t blame this one on fatigue.

Instead, he credited Michigan State for playing a physical, deliberate style that finally broke the Cardinals — just as Izzo choreographed it.

‘‘The game plan was beautiful. The guys executed the game plan to perfection,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘The key to the game was going to be the pace of the game and our defense. We got the pace and we played great defense and that was the key.’’

The Cardinals never figured it out, and never managed to produce one of those trademark scoring runs.

Clark led Louisville with 19 points, but the only other player to reach double figures was backup guard Preston Knowles, who had all 11 points in the first half. Williams finished with five points, six rebounds and four assists.

Just about everything went the Spartans’ way.

Although Louisville trailed 30-27 at the half, Williams acknowledged the sluggish start affected the Cardinals’ second-half performance.

They did manage to take a 34-32 lead with 15:33 to go, but then the Spartans took control.

With Suton on the bench, Michigan State went on a 9-2 run to rebuild a 41-36 lead. Then Summers got going. He hit a long jumper, just inside the 3-point line, followed that with a 3 and ended the 17-7 spurt with another three to give Michigan State an insurmountable 58-43 lead with 5:50 to go.

Louisville had only one more basket the rest of the way, finishing this part of Michigan State’s drive to the Final Four.

‘‘It’s as big a win as our school has had because we’re going to Detroit, and that’s been a dream and a goal since they announced where the Final Four was in 2009,’’ Izzo said.