"The bottom line was, they executed their defensive game plan really well and we didn't," said a disappointed Crean. "I think our youth showed up a little bit."
In the first half, Marquette spotted Michigan State a 14-0 lead to open the game and the Golden Eagles never recovered. Five MSU players scored during the run, while Marquette missed their first eight shots and first two free throws.
"We hate being down as it is," said Wes Matthews, on the MSU run to start the game. "I think for this team and this tradition of our program, being down is of course embarrassing.
"The concepts were there," he added. "The preparation was there, we just didn't execute it enough."
Just not their night
MU then went on a 15-6 run of their own highlighted by three David Cubillan three pointers. A James three point shot with no time left on the shot clock brought the Golden Eagles within five at 20-15. Still, the Golden Eagles failed to score a two point field goal the entire half and trailed the Spartans, 30-18, at intermission.
"Give Marquette credit, they really came back on us," said victorious coach Tom Izzo, who now owns a career 24-8 tournament record. "But we did a heck of a job defensively and made some big shots at the end."
Down 12 at half, Marquette found themselves in an eerily similar position as last year's 13 point halftime deficit to Alabama in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In that game, MU was able to come back and take the lead before eventually losing the game in the final seconds. On Thursday night, the Spartans opened up a 20 point lead on the Golden Eagles in the second half to ice the game away.
"We felt we had the personnel to advance," said James of his team's 2007 NCAA tournament prospects. "I feel like with Jerel McNeal out there, he would have made a difference. Still, we believed in each other but unfortunately it didn't work out for us."
Marquette played without arguably their best player in McNeal, who was second on the team in scoring. Without his ability to get to the basket, Marquette's offense sputtered to season lows in points scored (49), field goals (15), first half points (18), and tied a season low in assists with seven. In shooting just 21% in the first half and 32% for the game, Marquette also fell behind by its largest margin of the season when Gray's basket and a foul opened a 20 point lead on the Golden Eagles midway through the second half.
"The big pass from Neitzel to Gray I thought was the turning point," said Izzo. "That got us up to almost 20."
Marquette finished the season with 24 wins, highest since finishing with 26 during the final four run of 2003.
**Andrew Sharos is a senior double majoring in History and Secondary Education. Andrew is also the Head Student Writer for MarquetteHoops.com.