Here came Durrell Summers, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, on a fast break, and he rose for a jam and he went right into Connecticut’s 6-foot-9 Stanley Robinson, like a car going into a wall, and it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter at all. Not the five-inch difference. Not the sub versus starter. Summers was slamming the ball home, he was going right through Robinson, and his teammates were about to do the same to the mighty Huskies.
See you on Monday. For its next trick, Michigan State will need a volunteer. Because who wants to play the Spartans now? Honestly. In their last three games, they’ve defeated the defending champions, the No. 1 seed and an in-season No. 1-ranked perennial powerhouse, and they are now playing in a building that feels more like an ark that floated down from East Lansing with two of every Spartans fan packed inside.
See you on Monday – for the championship. MSU may be an unlikely finalist, but there was enough karma in Ford Field to levitate an green anchor Saturday. Magic Johnson. Jud Heathcote. Mark Dantonio. A crowd that couldn’t have seemed more partisan if they mailed Final Four tickets with the Michigan tax forms.
And in a game that embodied the swing-and-never-quit attitude of the streets outside the building, the Spartans shut down the bigger and stronger Huskies, 82-73, by doing what they do best: swatting, rebounding, defending, finding the right man at the right time and believing more than their doubters. They forced 16 turnovers. They exploded on fast breaks. They barely got a point out of Goran Suton – the star of the last round – and it didn’t matter. They were winning this game. On Monday, they try to bring it home.
Um. Well. They are home.
“Thanks Michigan State! Thanks Detroit! See you Monday Night!” Tom Izzo screamed.
Like I said. Battling in the forest
And don’t think that didn’t help Saturday. The noise hasn’t been this loud in Ford Field since – well, it’s got to be the 2006 Super Bowl, because Lord knows the Lions can’t elicit this kind of volume. And the Huskies, even as they ran out, were booed by much of the 72,000 crowd like a bartender who wants to close early.
Still, when the teams went into the halftime locker rooms, MSU had more fouls, worse shooting, fewer blocks and no points from Suton – and they were winning by a basket. That should have told us something. UConn was big and strong. There were moments when the Huskies looked as if they ate their Wheaties and the Spartans had munched on Special K. But MSU is a relentless team, it doesn’t let up on defense. And the second half was a blur of swipes and pokes and body slams. The ball seemed to be constantly popping loose from the Huskies’ hands, and the more the Spartans stole it, the more comfortable they got with it. Finally, their outside shooting, which had been poor in the first half, relaxed and began to fall. Kalin Lucas hit. Raymar Morgan hit. Even Suton finally hit.
And suddenly, the Spartans had a swagger. They rose for rebounds in the Connecticut forest, and came down with the ball between the redwoods.
See you on Monday. Now for the final step
True, this Spartans team didn’t make the noise of a North Carolina or a Louisville. It doesn’t have the marquee name like Hasheem Thabeet. But there is a reason Izzo is in his fifth one of these things in 11 years. Their last four wins – USC, Kansas, Louisville, Connecticut – have been a study in finding a way.
Saturday they found a way to chop down a bigger team, a favored team. And while Ford Field looked it never looked before, it sure as heck felt like home.
For their next trick, they’ll need a volunteer. And they’ll have one. But be careful, whoever plays them. Izzo had said he’d love for his team to be a silver lining for the storm clouds Michigan has endured lately.
Forget silver. Right now, folks around here seem awfully thrilled with green.