ST. LOUIS – As familiar as the scene was for Michigan State, it felt different this year.
The Spartans hoisted injured point guard Kalin Lucas to the basket at the Edward Jones Dome so he could snip a piece of the net. It signified how high Michigan State has risen this season, beating Tennessee, 70-69, on Sunday to advance to the Final Four for the sixth time in 12 seasons.
“It means a lot about our character,” sophomore forward Draymond Green said. “That is our goal (to win a national championship). It’s going to be tough, but we can do it if we keep working together.”
That has been the theme for the Spartans (28-8) throughout a season coach Tom Izzo often bemoaned for its lack of chemistry and leadership. But those qualities were on display as they came together to beat the Volunteers (28-9) for the right to play hometown favorite Butler on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Green, the team comedian, said he wanted to run the offense with the score tied at 69 after a timeout but realized Izzo wouldn’t go for it. He saw Raymar Morgan waving his hand under the basket and lobbed the ball inside, where Morgan drew a foul from Tennessee’s J.P. Prince with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Morgan made the first and intentionally missed the second. Tennessee rebounded, and after a timeout with 1.6 seconds left, the Vols drew up a play for a desperation shot by Prince, who missed from halfcourt.
“It was just a heads-up play by Raymar to wave his hands, and I saw him,” Green said, “but if he wouldn’t have waved his hands, I probably would have shot the ball.”
The Vols led 50-45 in the second half, but the Spartans went on a 14-1 run, keeping Tennessee without a field goal for more than seven minutes.
After Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious missed the front end of a one-and-one, Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson made 1 of 2 free throws to tie the score with 11.2 seconds left.
Prince didn’t think he fouled Morgan on the play that sent him to the line.
“At the end of the game, you let the players win the game,” Prince said. “It’s unfortunate (the official) called it.”
Durrell Summers led the Spartans with 21 points. Morgan and Green contributed 13 apiece.
The Spartans have endured the loss of two starters from last season’s team, which lost in the national title game, and have overcome injuries to three starters late in the season.
“It’s been a little bumpier road,” Izzo said.
But it has led to the same place.