Here came Durrell Summers, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, flying on a fast break, and he rose for a jam and went right into UConn’s 6-foot-9 Stanley Robinson, like a fly going into a windshield. And it didn’t matter. Not the 5-inch height difference. Not the sub versus starter. Not the fact that Robinson usually dunks on everyone else. Summers was absolutely going to plow through the mighty Husky en route to the Promised Land, and his teammates were about to do the same.
See you Monday.
“That was nasty!”senior Travis Walton gushed of Summers’ dunk, which gave the Spartans a 10-point lead en route to a semifinal upset and turned Ford Field into an East Lansing gym. “That was the tone-setter.”
For its next trick, Michigan State will need a volunteer. Because who wants to face the Spartans now? In their past three games, they’ve defeated Kansas, the defending champion; Louisville, the tournament’s No. 1 seed; and Connecticut, an in-season No. 1 powerhouse. And it feels as if MSU is playing in an ark that floated down I-96 with two of every Spartans fan inside.
Honestly, there was enough karma in Ford Field on Saturday night to levitate a green anchor. Magic Johnson. Jud Heathcote. Mark Dantonio. A crowd that couldn’t have seemed more partisan if they mailed Final Four tickets with 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. Raymar Morgan came alive. They barely got a point out of Goran Suton – the star of the last round – but it didn’t matter. They got 11 points from a freshman sub. They got their biggest dunk from a backup guard.
And Monday they’ll try to bring it home.
Um. Well. They are home.
“Thanks, Michigan State! Thanks, Detroit!” coach Tom Izzo screamed at courtside after the victory.
Like I said. The battle of breakfast cereals
And that was huge Saturday. Ford Field hasn’t been this loud since – well, the 2006 Super Bowl, because Lord knows the Lions can’t elicit this volume. The Huskies, as they ran out, were booed by the 72,000-plus as if they were a bartender who wanted to close early.
True, when they lined up, the Huskies looked as if they ate Wheaties while the Spartans munched Special K. But MSU is relentless, it gas-pedals its defense, and after a back-and-forth first half, the game became a blur of swipes, pokes and body slams. The ball was constantly popping loose from the Huskies’ hands, and the more the Spartans stole it, the more comfortable they fired it. Finally, their outside shooting, which had been poor earlier, relaxed and began to fall. Kalin Lucas hit. Morgan hit. Even Suton hit. And, suddenly, the Spartans had a lead and a swagger. Even a late surge by the Huskies would not rattle them. This was their state, their town, their building and their night.
“One thing we talked about is bringing hope to the city kind of for a whole weekend,” Walton said. “People forgetting about their problems … just focusing on us.”
How much more focused can they get? The look of a team of destiny
Michigan State didn’t make the headlines of a North Carolina or a Louisville. It didn’t have a marquee name like UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet. But there is a reason Izzo is in his fifth Final Four in 11 years. His teams do not employ superstars. There are no gimmicks. They study favored opponents like a lumberjack studies a redwood – and they chop them down.
Saturday they found a way to fell a more celebrated team. And with North Carolina next, they’ll be up against another. But the Tar Heels better be careful. There’s a lot of angel dust on these Spartans right now.
Summers has the words “No Grind” tattooed on one forearm and “No Shine” on the other. Those arms dunked home the message. That’s how it works in this town. No grind, no shine. We know it. UConn now knows it. Monday night, someone else may find out.