April 3, 2000
By HAL BOCK
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The last 20 minutes belong to Morris Peterson.
Peterson scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in the second half Monday night, leading Michigan State to the national championship over Florida. It was the continuation of a trend for the fifth-year senior, who dedicated the Final Four to his grandmother after she died March 25.
Of the 105 points Peterson scored in the NCAA tournament, 75 came after halftime.
Coach Tom Izzo was asked about the phenomenon.
"Why he doesn't do it in the first half, I don't know," he said. "The good part is I don't care anymore."
Peterson played these games with a heavy heart, after Clara Mae Spencer died last month. The Michigan State senior flew to Mississippi for her funeral, then returned for the Final Four. He wrote her name on his sneakers, a private memorial.
When he climbed the ladder to cut his share of the net Monday night, he held up a sign. It said: "This one's for Grandma."
Peterson scored 20 points in the semifinal against Wisconsin and then another 21 in the 89-76 win over Florida. He also had two rebounds, five assists and a steal.
"I know she is with me on the court," he said over the weekend about his late grandmother. "I can feel her presence."
When Mateen Cleaves turned his ankle in the second half, it was a turning point in the game for Michigan State. Peterson had three personal fouls and had to sit for a while. But the Spartans weren't folding.
When Peterson returned, he scored six straight points - a stretch that began with a layup and ended with a 3-pointer - as Michigan State stayed on top.
"When he went out, everybody got angry," Peterson said of Cleaves' injury. "All the guys stepped up and made big plays. We have a bunch who stepped up all year."
At game's end, the Spartans hugged two prominent Michigan State alumni - Magic Johnson and Steve Smith. "They were the best ever to play at Michigan State," Peterson said. "They watched over us, supported us. They mean a lot to the program."
Monday night's performance capped a big NCAA tournament for Peterson, who came back for this game, this night, this national championship. He was a huge presence in the Midwest Regional, scoring 21 points against Syracuse, 18 against Iowa State and helping Michigan State dominate the boards.
Then came his grandmother's funeral and his emotional return.
Peterson was one of Michigan State's trio of Flintstones. He grew up with Charlie Bell and Cleaves in the industrial city of Flint, playing on concrete courts and becoming buddies with the other two. Together, they went to East Lansing, determined to win a title.
A year ago, Peterson helped Michigan State to the Final Four, but the Spartans lost to Duke in the semifinals. He could have left after that, but stayed for one more shot.
"It was a matter of wanting to be around the Spartan family," he said. "These guys are like brothers to me. We come from a background where education is important. There was never any doubt. We talked about winning a national championship together."
And that's exactly what they did.