The game was all but over before LSU even scored. Before fans in the nation’s capital could even get settle into their seats. Before commentators could discuss suspensions or tirade controversies. And before we were quite sure just how scorching Michigan State would be on Friday night.
The second-seeded Spartans started hot, stayed hot, and romped over No. 3 seed LSU in the Sweet 16, 80-63. One early second-half stretch aside, they were never really troubled. They looked rested and refreshed. They played their best game of the NCAA tournament, and looked like a real threat to play a few more.
How Michigan State comprehensively beat LSU
From the opening tip, Michigan State executed at a level that LSU couldn’t match. Not consistently over 40 minutes, anyway. Sparty’s defense made the Tigers uncomfortable. Its offense was incisive.
It cut through LSU early with pace-pushing outlets and head fakes, ball fakes and extra passes. Less than two minutes in, Matt McQuaid threw his hands up in the air, three fingers extended on each, before Cassius Winston even elevated for a deep bomb that gave Michigan State an 8-0 lead. That’s how confident the Big Ten champions were.
Over the ensuing 38-plus minutes, LSU never did more than cut that lead in half. The favored Spartans stretched it to 17 on multiple occasions in the first half. LSU slashed it to four with an early second-half run, but an 11-0 Spartans spurt in less than two minutes pushed it back to 15 and put the game away.
There were two reasons for their dominance: Offensive rebounding and outside shooting. The latter came from unlikely sources. Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown – both average 3-point shooters – went 6-of-10 from deep. Michigan State shot 40.6 percent as a team.
Henry also had five of the team’s 10 first-half offensive rebounds – 59 percent of its own misses.
Michigan State won physical battles, but its dominance was systematic. LSU had the athletes to match it, but not the scheme and smarts. Winston ran the show, dictating the game, and so often sending LSU’s defense into scramble mode. He made Sparty’s offense press-proof. With the Tigers constantly rotating, Michigan State found wide-open shooters. And with the Tigers frantically recovering to those shooters, they were vulnerable on the boards.
Tremont Waters was the only one who could hang with the Spartans, and the only reason LSU was even peripherally in the game. He had 23 points. The 5-foot-11 sophomore led the charge at the start of the second half, scoring seven in a row and undoing much of Michigan State’s first-half superiority.
But when the Spartans responded with the run of their own, their overall superiority was clear. LSU never got any closer than within nine thereafter.
Michigan State will move on to play Duke on Sunday. If the Spartans play like they did Friday, they will be tough to beat.
Nick Ward re-injures hand in win
The one potential blemish on Michigan State’s victory was a second-half injury to junior big man Nick Ward.
Ward missed five games at the end of the regular season with a hand fracture. He returned for the Big Ten tournament, but hasn’t quite been himself since.
And on Friday, he appeared to re-injure the hand. He left the floor clutching it after a hard fall, the result of a battle for a rebound with LSU’s Naz Reid. Reid was assessed a flagrant-1 foul after officials reviewed the play.
Ward initially appeared to be in serious pain, and headed back to the locker room for X-rays. But those X-rays reportedly came back negative. Ward was diagnosed with a bone bruise, and cleared to return if necessary.
So maybe there was no blemish after all. Michigan State looks about as prepared for a battle with a No. 1 overall seed as any No. 2 seed could be.
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