By Harry Allison
Magic Johnson was in the house and Tom Izzo was on the bench.
The presence of the greatest Spartan of them all was symbolic but a future Hall of Fame coach sealed the deal as Michigan State defeated Louisville 76-70 in overtime to reach the national semifinals in Indianapolis next week.
Following a late run that saw Michigan State take a six-point lead with four minutes left, the Cardinals fought back behind seven points from Wayne Blackshear. Louisville even had a chance to win with five seconds left, as Mangok Mathiang had two foul shots to try to take the lead. However, the 48 percent-shooting big man could only convert one of two shots, so the game went into overtime. Once there, the Spartans got out to an early start behind a 3 and a pair of free throws from Bryn Forbes, and never trailed in the extra period.
This capped another second-half comeback in Syracuse for the Spartans, who did the same thing against Oklahoma on Friday. However, this one was even more shocking, given that this is the first time in 95 games that Louisville has lost after leading at halftime by six points or more (Louisville led 40-32).
Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine led the way for the Spartans on offense as they have most of the season with Trice scoring 17 and Valentine adding 15 points. Forbes chipped in 14.
For Louisville, Blackshear played what was the best game of his career for the Cardinals in his final game, scoring 28 points on 6-12 shooting and 12-12 from the free throw line. And he did it all while being sick.
“I’ve never seen anything like that at halftime,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “He was upchucking like I’ve not seen a person. What we think happened is he uses an inhaler for asthma, and he took too much, and it got him sick. He responded and came back. He had a great night.”
The game was back-and-forth in the earlygoing, with a heavy offensive feel after the two teams missed seven of their first eight shots. Michigan State got solid all-around contributions with Trice leading the way with 10. However, by the end of the first half, Louisville had taken control in the paint, having outscored the Spartans 24-10, led by Montrezl Harrell. Harrell scored 12 points early and dished out four assists (which tied for a career game high). Then near the end of the half, Blackshear took over and scored 12 points, including three 3-pointers. Overall, the game was played at a pretty brisk, uptempo pace, which is exactly what the Cardinals wanted to do to speed up the Spartans.
However, the second half was a different story. The Spartans began finding ways to get into the teeth of the defense, and took advantage of it. And Michigan State’s defense kicked into overdrive, as the Cardinals went 3-17 in the first 14 minutes of the half from the field (with the only three makes coming in transition off of Terry Rozier steals). A 10-0 run gave the Spartans the lead after back-to-back 3s by Trice and Forbes at the eight-minute mark.
“These guys did a heck of a job after a sluggish first half where I thought Louisville played very well,” Izzo said. “We just didn’t defend as well in that first half. They really got back to who we are. Holding a team like that to 5-of-25 from the field