Five things: Michigan State is Elite, again
March, 29, 2014
By Kieran Darcy | ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Wow, that was fun.
The NCAA tournament returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time in 53 years on Friday night. The atmosphere was electric, and the teams did not disappoint. Michigan State staved off Virginia 61-59 in the nightcap. Here are five quick observations:
Crowd control: So much talk leading up to Friday night's doubleheader concerned the strong showing expected from Connecticut fans, and the Huskies had a definite home-court advantage in Game 1, but Virginia might have had an even bigger advantage in Game 2. The amount of orange in the building was Syracuse-esque here at MSG.
And the Virginia fans were loud, too! Can't blame them for being worked up, considering this was the team's first Sweet 16 appearance since 1995. Well done, Wahoos.
Old school: Around these parts, we used to be treated to some mighty good defensive battles during the heyday of the Big East. This game brought that era to mind.
Just like Wichita State-Kentucky featured shot-making worthy of the Final Four, as opposed to the round of 32, Michigan-State-Virginia belonged another round or two down the road.
Experience counts: Despite all that good defense, we saw some great shot-making down the stretch from both sides.
How about Virginia's Justin Anderson -- scoreless for 38 minutes -- draining a 3-pointer with 1:53 remaining to tie the game at 51?
But the biggest shot of the game was Adreian Payne's trey 22 seconds later which broke the tie and gave the Spartans the lead for good. Don't forget Payne's two clutch free throws with 32.9 seconds left -- in a 1-and-1 situation, no less -- pushing a 56-54 lead to 58-54.
Payne is a senior, Michigan State's been to the Sweet 16 six times in the past seven seasons and the Spartans made more plays at the end when it counts. That's no coincidence.
MVP? All this talk about Michigan State's senior class potentially being the first under Tom Izzo to not reach a Final Four, and it's a junior trying to lead them there.
Branden Dawson scored 20 points just once in the first 35 games of the season, but Dawson had 26 points and nine rebounds in the Spartans' third-round win over Harvard and followed that up with a team-high 24 points and 10 boards against Virginia.
Can't wait: The lower seeds won each of the two games here Friday night, yet it felt like the favorite won both games.
Forget the Spartans' No. 4 seed and the Huskies' No. 7: Michigan State versus UConn? That's a battle of college basketball heavyweights.
In Madison Square Garden, with a spot in the Final Four at stake? It doesn't get much better than that.