Michigan State Rolls After Slow Start
March 21, 2001
By LARRY LAGE
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Michigan State didn't want to add to the madness of the NCAA Tournament.
With double-digit seeds winning games left and right, the defending national champions were determined not to be the first No. 1 seed to be shocked by a 16th-seeded team.
The Spartans beat Alabama State 69-35 Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament's South Regional.
Andre Hutson had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Jason Richardson scored 14 and Zach Randolph added 14 off the bench for Michigan State. The Spartans held the Hornets scoreless for over 13 minutes in the second half and outscored them 40-10 after halftime.
What side of history Michigan State would fall on was in doubt for just over 20 minutes.
"I was concerned," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo admitted.
Would Michigan State become the first top seed to lose its opening game?
Or would it continue its quest to be the first team to repeat since Duke did it in 1992 and just the second since UCLA's run from 1967-73?
Whether the Spartans can win five more games before losing in the one-and-done tournament remains to be seen, but they didn't become infamous against the champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
They at least earned the right to play another game, against either No. 8 California or No. 9 Fresno State, in the second round on Sunday.
It took an impressive start of the second half to ensure that.
After leading by just four at halftime, Michigan State opened the second half with a 12-2 run to take a 43-27 lead.
It was essentially over then, but the Spartans added some style points.
When Alabama State responded with a 3-pointer and a layup, the Spartans answered another question that has been asked of them often this season.
Are they capable of putting teams away for good after building comfortable leads?
For at least one night, they answered with an emphatic "Yes!"
The Spartans scored 26 unanswered points while holding the Hornets without a point from the 13:40 mark until there were 15 seconds left.
If Michigan State is going to beat California, Fresno State or any other team in the tournament, it will need to play defense like it did against Alabama State in the second half.
When the Hornets had the ball on the perimeter, they had defenders guarding them so close that they could smell what Michigan State ate for lunch.
When Alabama State tried to score inside, it realized the Spartans were too big, too strong and too talented to do much.
"At halftime we said we're going to put the clamps on them," Izzo said. "That's how we've won championships."
Izzo knew his team was going to be superior in a lot of ways, but he still was nervous about the game.
He did his best to strike fear in the Spartans, too.
As a Spartan assistant under Jud Heathcote, Izzo witnessed the only overtime game between No. 1 and No. 16 seeds when Michigan State, with Steve Smith, needed an extra session to beat Murray State in 1990.
He showed a five-minute clip of that game to his team this week.
"When you're a coach, like when you're a parent, you start talking about things and the people you're talking to think, `Oh, yeah, another long fish story,'" Izzo said. "I wanted to make sure they understood the fish story was reality. So I put it into reality."
Izzo was also an assistant during Heathcote's final season in 1995, when third-seeded Michigan State was shocked by No. 14 Weber State.
"It definitely hit home when he talked about the past history of our
program," Richardson said. "It also hit us when we saw so many teams in
this tournament that were supposed to win, lose. We didn't want to be a
part of that."
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