Kansas had its shots, and they were big, but Michigan State’s shots were bigger. The Spartans used a 16 of 17 performance from the free-throw line and turned the ball over just 13 times to erase a 13-point deficit in the process of knocking of the defending national champions, 67-62 Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals. But for Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self, the season was a growing process.
Kansas had its shots, and they were big, but Michigan State’s shots were bigger.
The Spartans used a 16 of 17 performance from the free-throw line and turned the ball over just 13 times to erase a 13-point deficit in the process of knocking of the defending national champions, 67-62, Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
But for Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self, the season was a growing process.
“We weren't a very good basketball team early,” Self said. “The guys really came together. They gave us a chance to be good. We had players step up all year long and really became a good team.”
That does not mean that a trip to the round of 16 with a nearly new team from the one a season ago that defeated Memphis for the title still does not have room to grow.
“We were never, I don't think, as efficient as what we could have been on both ends. But still the guys really, really did well. I'm really proud of 'em,” Self said. “It was a great group to coach, and I told them in there afterwards, you know, when you're in the game, you know, oftentimes it hurts the way it ends, because ultimately there's just going to be one team that's really ecstatic leaving the season.”
It now leaves Michigan State as the lone representative of the Big 10 Conference. The Spartans beat No. 1 Louisville on Sunday for Spartan head coach Tom Izzo’s fifth Final Four, and their first since 2005.
“Well, I'm really proud of that, for our program, our university. I'm really proud of it for the Big 10, you know,” Izzo said. “I think we were very well prepared this year for this tournament and the toughness you have to display in this tournament because of the teams we played in our league.”
And, they got there with fundamentals.
Spartan sophomore guard Kalin Lucas, who struggled to score for the first 39 minutes of the game, went 5 for 5 from the free-throw line to help Michigan State pull away late in the game.
“You know, I said all year, he a big time player. He want the ball in his hands,” said Michigan State senior guard Travis Walton. “He showed that to you all last year when he made big plays, had the big plays against Pittsburgh, against other big players.”
Offensively, for the Jayhawks, the last three minutes of the game proved to be difficult as they had unforced turnovers and missed out on several key rebounds that seemed to give the momentum to the Spartans.
“We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had. I thought we tried really hard, though. And we played tough,” Self said. “We just didn't get enough done down the stretch.”
Matthew Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140. Follow Morning Sun sports at twitter.com/mssports.