March 17, 2007

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

NCAA Second Round

Two great programs with two great coaches and two sets of great fans is what tonight was all about.  If you want to know what makes the NCAA tournament so special you saw it here.  The Spartans came in as the under dog.  A team that had no business being here allegedly and most felt it wouldn’t have made it when the season started.

It would have been safe to assume that after a win against Tom Crean and Marquette that the Spartans would be out of gas.  Well you know what assuming does to you.  King Izzo and his cagers did not receive the memo because they came out looking for a fight.   They found one in the team that I predicted at the beginning of the season would win it all:  the North Carolina Tar Heels. 

The lanky 6’9” super sophomore Tyler Hansbrough led the Heels.  He is a special player and he had 19 points for the Heels at the half (33 for the game) and as competitive as he is, the MSU bigs and once again Jake Hannon never backed down and to his credit neither did he.

The Spartans took the lead with 15:07 left in the second half 44-43 on a lay up by Suton and the battle was on.  The Spartans continued to pester the Heels and play the Big Ten football (yes I meant football) that Williams had worried they would even before the first round began here.  It was no secret talking to the UNC press BEFORE the Marquette game that Williams was not pleased that he may have gotten MSU and that physical brand of basketball turned out to be the nightmare he thought it was.

It wasn’t pretty but it was epic MSU basketball.  The Spartans hustled and scrapped their way into the game.  “They (the team) gave me all they had this season.  I won’t say that I am satisfied though.  I am real proud of this team but you know it is disappointing” those were Izzo’s thoughts of is teams performance

The Spartans effort was incredible.  Every time the Heels did something that you thought was going to finally slow the Spartans they stepped up.  If you are one of those people that are always looking for the negative in everything then this was not a game for you.  It had all the components of a classic Hollywood movie.  It had the two heavyweights.  It had the two big stars in Hansbrough and Neitzel.  It had all the ballyhoo and hype and it lived up to it. MSU assistant Coach Mark Montgomery summed it up best to me after the game when he said “for the first time all season, I can honestly say we ran out of gas.”

Of course the officials missed some calls but it was s decently officiated game and there were mistakes that benefited both teams.  MSU just kept fighting.  The Spartan toughness was never more shown then with 8:08 left in the game and the overwhelming UNC crowd louder then any I had heard them and Neitzel drove the lane for a beautiful lay in giving the Spartans back the lead 59-58. 

With 6:05 the Spartans took a time out down three and the Carolina Blue clad crowd louder then ever.  Izzo’s team responded with ice water in the their fans when as usual out of a time out they were able to get Neitzel the open three.  He missed it but Raymar got the rebound and went up strong getting a crucial foul on Hansbrough.  The youngster from Canton McKinley didn’t care who screamed and he hit them both making it 62-61 UNC.  Raymar has shown glimpses of greatness all season and tonight he clearly on a national stage let the country know that he will be the next great MSU wingman.  He finished the night with 19 and Neitzel had 26 to lead the Spartans offensive attack.

That was as close as MSU could get.  UNC was just too much and although the effort was valiant the better team did win.  I stand by my prediction that they will win it all, but to be frank who really cares when MSU is out of it.

I for one with all of this talent coming back and one of the nation’s best recruiting classes coming in want to start next season now.  That would be a dumb thing though.  Failing to stop and reflect upon the greatest coaching job that Izzo has ever done would be a mistake.  I just walked out of a Spartan locker room that was full of tears.  This team told the nation tonight “we are Spartans.”  This was everything that you could hope for. 

Thanks to all the 2006-2007 Spartans.  They showed what being a Spartan is all about.  This was a magical year.  I for one will never forget it.  As Izzo concludes his post game press conference as I am typing this, he must not have gotten my memo.  He is talking about next season.

Classic Izzo.