Korie Lucious and his Michigan State teammates received the official word on the status of teammate Kalin Lucas at halftime of Sunday’s second-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament showdown against fourth-seeded Maryland at the Arena.
It wasn’t good.
Lucas, MSU’s junior point guard, was finished – not just for the game, but for the season – after apparently aggravating an old ankle injury a few minutes earlier. The Spartans were about to return to the floor to deal with another 20 minutes of Maryland’s suffocating, full-court defensive pressure without the trusted and steady Lucas
“It was devastating to see ‘K’ go down,” Lucious later said. “And when they told me he wasn’t going to return, I knew I had to step up my leadership role.”
Which is exactly what the 5-foot-11 sophomore guard did – not only in handling the Terrapins’ second-half defensive pressure, but in calmly stroking the winning shot.
Lucious, just moments after Greivis Vasquez had put Maryland ahead on a tough leaner in the lane with 6 seconds remaining, freed himself near the top of the key on MSU’s ensuing possession and icily drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the fifth-seeded Spartans a riveting 85-83 victory that propelled them into a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 9 Northern Iowa in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional in St. Louis on Friday.
MSU’s Draymond Green, who had hit what he thought was “the biggest shot of my life” to give the Spartans an 82-81 lead just 20 seconds earlier – only to have it trumped by Vasquez – reluctantly assisted on Lucious’ game winner.
“He was yelling, ‘Dray-Dray, Dray-Dray,’” said the 6-foot-6 sophomore, who had been pushed into a point forward-like role in the absence of Lucas and Chris Allen, who played only four minutes after spraining the arch in his left foot during Friday’s 70-67 first-round win over New Mexico State.
“But I wanted to be the hero, too.”
In the end, however, Green gave up the ball, and the Spartans (26-8) prevailed.
Maryland (24-9) trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, but rallied for an 83-81 lead with 6 seconds left. Vazquez, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s player of the year, scored 13 of his 26 points in the final 7 minutes to fuel the Terrapins’ late-game surge, and thought the final bucket of his career might have been the clincher.
“It’s hard to explain,” said the 6-foot-6 senior, who scored 10 of Maryland’s last 12 points. “I thought we had the game won, and they come right back and end up making a 3. Give them credit – (Lucious) is going to remember that shot for the rest of his life.”
Lucious finished with 13 points, two assists and only two of the Spartans’ 19 turnovers. But he had plenty of help from Durrell Summer, who knocked down 6 of 7 3-point attempts to equal his career high with 26 points, and Raymar Morgan, who added 17 points and blocked three shots.
MSU coach Tom Izzo told his players late in the game that they were going to win, adding, “And it’s going to be one of the greatest wins in the history of Michigan State.”
Afterward, he saidd that might have been a bit of an exaggeration. But he praised the way his team fought through the injury adversity it encountered.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of my team,” he said. “And, yet, I think we beat a very, very well-coached and good team – and great player in Vasquez.”
Vasquez, who was 9 for 20 from the field, also had eight assists, four rebounds and three steals.