ST. LOUIS – The NCAA tournament is when Michigan State shines. Deep runs are expected, national championships realistic.
This year hasn’t been a ho-hum ride.
With everything they’ve been through, the wild momentum swings of the season, their leader on the bench in a walking boot, the Spartans really enjoyed this win.
Rallying around injured star Kalin Lucas, Michigan State survived a midmajor scare and earned another berth in the round of eight by grinding out a 59-52 victory over pesky Northern Iowa on Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
“That’s kind of enjoyable, to find a way,” coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s somewhat more rewarding than the last two.”
Michigan State had it relatively easy during its previous two trips to the regional finals, its deep and talented teams overwhelming opponents along the way.
This year’s team had to survive a Whac-A-Mole-like season, filled with winning streaks, injuries, suspensions and benchings. The fifth-seeded Spartans then had to get through a physically demanding game against a Northern Iowa team that had already taken out the biggest favorite in the field.
Michigan State did it with defense and stellar play from its remaining guards.
Korie Lucious played 39 steady minutes in place of Lucas, Durrell Summers had 19 points and the Spartans held the No. 9 seed Panthers to 10 free throws and no field goals over the final 10:21 to send the Heartland heroes home.
Always at their best in the NCAA tournament, the Spartans are one win from a sixth trip to the Final Four in 12 years. They’ll play Sunday against sixth-seeded Tennessee, which beat No. 2 Ohio State 76-73.
“It feels great to be back,” forward Draymond Green said. “We’ve still got bigger dreams.”
The Spartans crushed Northern Iowa’s.
The Panthers (30-5) knocked off one college basketball giant but couldn’t make it two straight, unable to contain the athletic Spartans for an entire game after stunning top overall seed Kansas in the second round.
Adam Koch had 13 points and Kwadzo Ahelegbe 12 for Northern Iowa, but Ali Farokhmanesh ran out of magic. The early-round star was just 1 for 6 from 3-point range and finished with nine points as the Panthers’ deepest run in the NCAA tournament came to a close.
“In some time, they’ll have a lot to look back and a lot to be proud of,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “But not yet.”