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Michigan State knocks Virginia out of NCAA Tournament

Dawson scores 24 to lead Spartans to 61-59 win over Cavaliers in Sweet Sixteen

NEW YORK — At some point, the Virginia men’s basketball team’s luck had to run out. They had won an ACC regular season title, an ACC Tournament championship and had made it to the Sweet Sixteen, extending one of the most successful seasons in the program’s recent history.

Friday night at Madison Square Garden, the Cavaliers’ stunning run came to an end as they lost 61-59 to Michigan State, bowing out of the NCAA Tournament. Sitting on the post-game podium, though, coach Tony Bennett made sure to put the season in perspective.

“It’s life,” Bennett said. “We had so many good things happen this year. Unbelievable things. This is part of it. You got to take the hard — and not that this is hard. What a joy it is to play in this setting and to get our program here.”

Both teams came out shooting well, as Michigan State (29-8, 12-6 Big Ten) took an 8-4 lead just under four minutes into the game. The Spartans would build their lead even further, pushing the game to 23-13 with 9:01 on the clock.

Virginia (30-7, 16-2 ACC), though, fought back, going on a 10-0 run to tie the game at 23-23 with just under four minutes left in the half. Michigan State closed the half out on a small run to take a 31-27 lead at halftime. Junior forward Branden Dawson led the Spartans with 11 points at halftime, and proved tough for Virginia to guard.

“I think Dawson presented a challenge because he’s very versatile,” sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “He can move, he has great body control when he gets in the air. He plays through contact. He was able to finish in a lot of different types of ways.”

Virginia took control of the game coming out of halftime, rushing out to a 38-34 lead with 12:23 to play in the second half. The Cavaliers struggled to maintain any separation, though, shooting just 32.1 percent in the second half. The shooting woes allowed Michigan State to stay in the game.

“I think I definitely have to credit their defense,” Brogdon said. “They have a lot of good athletes. They contest shots. But we also missed some easy layups inside for sure. But I can’t take away from their defense. I think they did a good job on us.”

The Spartans would tie the game at 40-40 with under ten minutes to play, and would take a 43-40 lead on a 3-pointer from junior guard Travis Trice with 9:09 to play. Michigan State would push its lead to 49-42 with 6:15 left to play, putting Virginia in a precarious position.

“They made a big three by Trice,” Bennett said. “I felt like momentum shifted. … We took them late in the shot clock. They looked a little stagnant and they were having to make plays. How they scored almost were broken plays or transition buckets.”

Virginia stormed back, tying the game at 51-51 on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Justin Anderson, but Michigan State responded with two quick scores to take a 56-51 lead with under a minute to play.

“When you’re in a game like this, with this much at stake at this level, plays have to be made, whether it’s big shots hit or just a big block or something,” Bennett said. “They did that. We had a little trouble down the stretch doing that. A couple times we broke down and they made us pay, but they’re used to winning. They have obviously those guys, the experience, and they are a physical team.”

The Cavaliers would try to narrow the lead, repeatedly fouling Michigan State, and a Brogdon three made the game 60-59 with two seconds on the clock. Virginia fouled Spartan sophomore guard Gary Harris with one second on the clock, and Harris purposely missed the second free throw to prevent Virginia from being able to set up a play. Anderson threw up a desperation shot as time expired, but it missed the mark.

Dawson finished with 24 points to lead all players, while Brogdon and senior guard Joe Harris each had 17 point for the Cavaliers — Brogdon had 12 of his 17 in the second half.

“It stings now and it feels empty, and … you don’t want the season to end because you don’t want to stop coaching them,” Bennett said. “But I thank God for the opportunity to work with these guys, and they should hold their head high.”

The Virginia players were understandably disappointed after the game, but they put the season in context.

“Not many people expected us to be here with this group of guys,” Anderson said. “We kept two feet on the step throughout the whole process, and the coaching, the team, couldn’t be better.”