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Tom Izzo's missed free throw gamble pays off in Michigan State's narrow win over Virginia

NEW YORK — With 1.1 seconds remaining in Michigan State’s Sweet 16 game versus Virginia, Spartan Gary Harris stepped to the line with his team leading 60-59. After he sunk a free throw to increase the margin to two, head coach Tom Izzo called a timeout.

Following the huddle, Harris stepped to the line and intentionally bricked his second shot. Virginia, out of timeouts, was forced to scramble for a three-quarter court heave. Justin Anderson’s prayer wasn’t answered and Michigan State advanced to the Elite Eight with a two-point victory. But was the call easy for Izzo, coaching in his 57th NCAA Tournament game?

“Well, I wanted it right away,” said Izzo after the game when asked about the intentional miss. “My assistants questioned it a little bit. I told them why: I still was relying more on an 80-foot shot than I was if they threw it. Yeah, you could foul the guy, but you never know how that’s going to be called and I wasn’t taking that chance. So I thought my best chance was an 80-foot shot and I guess it was.”

“That’s why we took the full timeout. Talked about it. It was great, it’s the way it should be.”

There has been plenty of debate about whether teams should intentionally foul up three at the end of games, but Izzo managed to avoid that conundrum. By having Harris miss the shot, Virginia was sent scrambling for a Hail Mary heave instead of setting up an inbounds play that would have allowed them to advance the ball further up the court without running any time off the clock. Even though it worked, Izzo’s assistants weren’t the only ones questioning the call in the huddle.

“Some of the players, couple of them, wanted to make it, some of them didn’t,” said Izzo with a smile. “It was kind of interesting.”

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