Spartans Get Unexpected Offensive Explosion To Advance Print
Written by mark   
Sunday, 22 March 2009 19:34

Streak Intact

Minneapolis,Minn - There is an impressive statistic that has been building over time in East Lansing, Mich., one that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo treasures above all others.

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In the last 12 years, every Spartan who has stayed for four years has appeared in a Final Four.

Thanks to an unexpected scoring binge from senior Travis Walton, who has yet to step on to college basketball's biggest stage, Michigan State still has a chance to keep that streak going.

The Big Ten's defensive player of the year scored a career-high 18 points to lift the second-seeded Spartans to a 74-69 victory over 10th-seeded USC on Sunday in the Midwest Regional, putting Michigan State in the round of 16 for the eighth time in 12 years.

``There's no question that of all the players on our team, Travis wants to keep playing probably more than anybody,'' Izzo said. ``He's the only recruit in those years that has been here four years that hasn't gone to a Final Four. And I think that drives him.''

He entered the game averaging 4.9 points and was shut out against Robert Morris in the first round. So even his coach couldn't believe it when he went 8-for-13 on Sunday.

``I was shocked that he did make some of those shots. ... There are certain times when guys just step up and do heroic things,'' Izzo said.

Durell Summers added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Spartans (28-6), who have advanced to the regional semifinals more times in the last dozen years than any team besides Duke.

They'll play third-seeded Kansas on Friday in Indianapolis. The Spartans beat the Jayhawks 75-62 on Jan. 10 in East Lansing.

Dwight Lewis scored 19 points and DeMar DeRozan added 18 points for USC (22-13), which is looking like more than just a football school under coach Tim Floyd.

The upstart Trojans, who had just 12 NCAA tournament victories in the program's history before Floyd arrived four years ago, gave the tourney-tested Spartans all they could handle.

Even with star forward Taj Gibson rendered ineffective by foul trouble and Goran Suton, there were 16 ties and 14 lead changes in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute.

``I loved the heart and spirit we played with against one of the elite programs in the country,'' Floyd said.

Raymar Morgan calls Michigan State's backcourt of Walton and Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas ``Fire and Ice,'' with Lucas providing the heat on offense and Walton cooling down the opposing team's top perimeter threat on the other end of the floor.

``You look at me as a defensive stopper, but I've been practicing my shot,'' Walton said. ``Kalin put the ball in my hands. I had high confidence when I shot them and they went in.''

Floyd had a similar scouting report and had his players helping off of Walton on Lucas's drives to the basket and Morgan's postups. It was a sound theory in principle.

Walton hadn't scored in double figures since he had 11 against Kansas. But with the offense sputtering and the Trojans attacking, the senior could not have picked a better time to come through.

Floyd worried that the lack of depth - three Trojans played all 40 minutes and Gibson played 36 against Boston College - would hinder them against Michigan State, which goes 10 deep. Gibson fouled out with 5:38 to play, but these kids showed plenty of California cool even without their leader on the floor.

Lewis scored six straight points for the Spartans, including two free throws that tied the game at 69 with less than 4 minutes to go.

``We didn't put our heads down. We kept fighting,'' guard Daniel Hackett said. ``And, you know, these guys had a tremendous effort.''

Walton drilled his third tie-breaking jumper of the final 10 minutes on the other end. After Hackett lost the ball on a drive to the basket, Nikola Vucevic was whistled for a questionable foul on Suton. Floyd flopped to the court in fury, but Suton made both free throws for a 73-69 lead with 1:19 to go.

Lewis and Hackett missed 3-pointers on the other end and the Trojans missed their final nine shots from the field to help the Spartans survive.

After going a perfect 10-for-10 with 24 points and six rebounds in the Trojans' opening-round victory over BC on Friday, Gibson scored just three points with no rebounds and five blocks in 23 minutes.

With USC out, the Pac-10 only has one team remaining in the field in Arizona. California, Washington, UCLA and Arizona State also failed to make it out of the first weekend, making it the first time since 2004 that at least two Pac-10 teams aren't in the round of 16.

But the best may be yet to come for these Trojans, who have appeared in a school-record three straight NCAA tournaments. DeRozan, Leonard Washington (10 points, seven rebounds) and Vucevic (six points, four boards in 22 minutes) are freshmen. If Hackett, Lewis and Gibson return for their senior years and DeRozen sticks around, the Trojans will be loaded.

``I'm really proud of them,'' Floyd said. ``We're a team that has talent and it's young talent. Maybe that's the nature of college basketball today. But if there is some way we can keep them together and add what we have coming back next year, we've got a chance to be a special team.''

For Walton, there is no next year.

``I don't want my career to end on the note where I feel like I didn't give it my all or I'm not giving my all to this team,'' he said. ``I feel this team still has a lot of growing to do.''

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Posted: 3/23/09 12:35AM ET


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