Spartans Headed to Sweet Sixteen with Upset of Top-Seeded Duke
March 24, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Joanne P. McCallie squatted on the sideline, staring in disbelief as her top-seeded Duke Blue Devils fell apart in an arena where she was once adored.
"It was never about playing Coach P. It was all about us," Michigan State forward Aisha Jefferson said. "A lot of people just look at the name `Duke' and that's the end of the game right there."
Duke was doomed because it didn't make a shot for the last 7 1/2 minutes as it was outscored 16-2, leading to fans - including men's basketball players - rushing the court to celebrate.
McCallie insisted it wasn't surreal to end a promising season against a program she led to the 2005 championship game as the end of the game unfolded and the only question left was the final score.
"I was just trying to focus on us getting stops and scores," McCallie said. "And, we didn't get either."
In more than a decade, the only top-seeded team to lose in the second round was Ohio State in 2006 setback against eighth-seeded Boston College.
"Coaching kind of takes a back seat sometimes and that's what happened," said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant, deflecting credit for knocking off her predecessor.
Michigan State (22-10) will face the winner of the Iowa State-Ball State game on Saturday in the semifinals of the Berkeley Regional.
Jasmine Thomas had 14 points and Karima Christmas scored 13 for Duke (27-6) while leading scorer Chante Black was held to just four.
"I just don't know what to think," Christmas said. "I don't want this season to end."
The last time a national power was eliminated this early in the NCAA tournament was 1997.
The Blue Devils, who scored at least 75 points in each of their last six games, were held to a season-low total and made just 27 percent of their shots.
Raucous fans and flying elbows seemed to rattle them.
"We lost our composure," McCallie acknowledged.
The game was so physical there were sequences in the lane that looked like NHL goal-mouth scrambles.
"We're feisty," Johnson said. "We weren't going to back down."
The fans weren't, either.
McCallie was booed - louder than she was Sunday - when she was introduced and she simply smiled as she shook hands with Merchant and shared a laugh with her coaching staff.
Coach P knew how loud it could get in the Breslin Center because she coached there for seven seasons.
"This place is a better place for women's basketball because Joanne P. McCallie was here," Merchant said.
Duke insisted it wasn't unfair, as a top-seeded team, to play on Michigan State's home court. But it certainly gave the Spartans a lift to have most of the lower level in their arena filled.
Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo and several of his players even took time away from preparing for their third-round matchup with Kansas to watch. Football coach Mark Dantonio sat with Izzo and hugged Merchant after the game outside her locker room.
Izzo stayed for the whole game, cheering from a suite, and his players were on their feet on a baseline as were 5,000-plus fans in the stands.
"I'm sure it helped, of course. But is it the reason why they won? No," McCallie said. "We played very poorly and if you play poorly, you have to give the other team credit."
As good as they were late, the Spartans looked like they were going to be in trouble early in the game.
They turned the ball over on their first possession and then gave up a 3-pointer to Abby Waner, who returned to the lineup after resting her sprained knee during the first-round rout of Austin Peay.
But the Blue Devils went scoreless for 4 minutes after Waner's shot and were plagued by turnovers.
Duke had more turnovers (seven) than field goals (five) when Michigan State led by six after surging ahead with a 14-4 run.
Michigan State led 25-20 at halftime.
Duke was determined to turn things around early in the second half led by Black, who scored on an aggressive move in the lane on the opening possession to match the two points she had in the first half.
Then, Black caused a turnover and assisted on Waner's 3-pointer that tied the game 34 seconds after halftime and helped the Blue Devils go back ahead for the first time since the 12:00 mark of the first half.
Michigan State, though, proved it could take Duke's best shot by competing the rest of the way in the closely contested game.
"When we come to play, anything can happen," Johnson said.
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