INDIANAPOLIS – Even before Michigan State’s first game of the season, coach Tom Izzo gathered his players and spelled out their goal.
“Ford Field,” he wrote on a dry-erase board.
That part of the Motown mission is now complete.
The Spartans gave the Final Four a hometown feel, stopping overall No. 1 seed Louisville 64-52 Sunday to win the Midwest Regional.
Goran Suton had 19 points and 10 rebounds as the second-seeded Spartans (30-6) played the pace game to perfection and reached their fifth Final Four in 11 years – the most trips of any team in the nation during that span.
Only 90 miles from their campus in East Lansing, the Spartans will play Connecticut on Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit. A crowd of 72,000, the largest ever for college basketball’s signature event, is expected for each game.
“Detroit, here we come,” said Izzo, a Michigan native. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that.”
The Spartans made it 30 years after Magic Johnson led them to a national title over Larry Bird and Indiana State.
“Detroit needs something, Michigan needs something to feel good about,” said Johnson, who was at the game. “And right now, the whole state is feeling good about this Michigan State team.”
Along with advancing, the Spartans prevented a Big East blitz in the Final Four – coach Rick Pitino and Louisville (31-6) were trying to become the third school from the power-packed conference to make it.
“They were the better team,” Louisville’s Terrence Williams said. “They were quicker than us, their defense was more physical and we couldn’t turn them over like we wanted to.”
Next week’s short trip will be a special treat for many Spartans – eight Michigan residents are on the roster.
Durrell Summers, who delivered 10 second-half points, grew up in Detroit. Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, was raised 10 minutes from the giant stadium.
After traveling to Indianapolis, Minneapolis and back to Indianapolis the last three weekends, the Spartans showed their zeal at the end.
Exuberant players were hugging with more than a minute to go, and as the buzzer sounded, Isaiah Dahlman tossed the ball high into the air as players and coaches jumped for joy, then took part in a group hug just in front of the bench.
“One thing we told ourselves was that we was going to get back there (Detroit),” Lucas said.
The game went nothing like Louisville expected.
Its vaunted pressure defense produced no fastbreak points. After committing nine turnovers in Friday’s 39-point rout over Arizona, the Cardinals matched that total in 18 minutes Sunday. They opened the game on a scoring drought that lasted nearly four minutes.
And two days after scoring 103 points, they barely avoided setting a new a season-low point total thanks to Earl Clark’s 3-pointer with 12 seconds left. Louisville scored 51 points against Connecticut on Feb. 2.
The biggest problem was Michigan State’s aggressive man-to-man defense, which kept Louisville out of sync all day.
The combination of Michigan State’s defense and the Cardinals’ offensive struggles sent Louisville to its second straight regional final loss and marked the third straight year Pitino’s team was eliminated on the second day of a weekend.
Clark led Louisville with 19 points, but the only other player to reach double figures was backup guard Preston Knowles, who had all 11 points in the first half. Williams finished with five points, six rebounds and four assists.
“It’s as big a win as our school has had because we’re going to Detroit, and that’s been a dream and a goal since they announced where the Final Four was in 2009,” Izzo said.
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