The No. 7 seed Spartans knocked off the No. 2 Cavaliers in a 60-54 win Sunday, moving on to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
Travis Trice got the Spartans off to a hot start, scoring 13 points in the first 5:28 of the game. He came up just as big late with Michigan State ahead 49-44 and the shot clock winding down, Trice went one-on-one with Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, letting it go from deep behind the 3-point line. It went through with 2:51 left and might have been the backbreaker as the Cavs never got back into it as Trice led the way with 23 points.
But it was another grinder, similar to last season when the teams met in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden with the Spartans winning 61-59 to go to the Elite Eight.
Again Virginia brought in a highly regarded defense, but Michigan State’s was up to the test. The Spartans held Virginia to 29.8 percent from the field and 11.8 percent from 3-point range. They held the Cavs without a field goal for a 9:49 in the second half – spanning from the 12:21 mark to the 2:32 mark, when Anthony Gill tipped in a shot to pull Virginia within 52-46.
The Spartans took the lead for good just 1:47 into the game, as Trice hit his first 3-pointer of the game. He then stepped in and threw up a leaning 3-pointer late in the shot clock, got a transition dunk off a Branden Dawson block, buried another three and finished again in transition as his 13 points of the Spartans’ first 15 gave them a 15-4 lead, but Virginia scrapped back in.
Early in the second half, Virginia got as close as it would – 24-22 – and after Brogdon missed a 3-pointer for the lead, MSU went on a run.
Denzel Valentine, who had just four points in 21 minutes due to foul trouble, got a friendly roll on a three to end a scoring drought that spanned more than six minutes.
Dawson, who had 15 points and nine rebounds, then score seven points in a row. His first came at the line, but his second was a highlight. The senior took off down the court in transition, took a pass from Trice down the middle, made the dunk and drew the foul. His third straight bucket was after a pair of offensive rebounds – one from Matt Costello and one from Dawson.
Bryn Forbes capped the 13-3 run with a 3-pointer from the corner to give MSU its largest lead at 37-25.
The Cavs had another run after Valentine went to the bench with his third foul with 14:53 left in the game. Virginia pulled within 38-34 on the 9-1 run – 7-1 with Valentine out.
Dawson hit a short jumper and Valentine then hit Forbes in the corner for a long two to extend the MSU lead back to 42-34.
With Virginia slumping from the field, they used the free-throw line to stay in the game with 17 points from the stripe. The Cavs again got within four, 45-41, before MSU hit four straight free throws to pull back into the lead before Trice hit his 3-pointer and sealed it from the free-throw line.
With the win, Tom Izzo improved to 20-4 with a two-day turnaround in the NCAA Tournament -- with a 13-1 record in the Round of 32.
Watch his post-game comments below.