Louisville’s athleticism too much for Michigan State
PHOENIX — For Michigan State, simulation wasn’t possible. The Spartans demonstrated that in the first Sweet 16 game Thursday, as a low-scoring affair benefited Louisville’s game plan, and the Cardinals handled Michigan State, 57-44.
The matchup was infused with big plays and high emotions, but overall went Louisville’s way.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo talked in the pre-game press conference about Louisville’s press defense and the chaos they caused. He said it was hard to recreate that frenzy for his players in practice. He also made another mistake, one he sensed was a problem well before Thursday’s game tipped.
“I’d never come out on a Monday again.” Izzo said. “I think we needed more time there and maybe get some athletes around that could do some things. It was just a weird situation for us. I thought we were mentally fatigued today and maybe that was almost too much time … this is one of those games when I don’t think we had one guy play really well, and I’m not saying we did as good a job as coaches. So we grew together, we won together, we had fun together. Today we cried together. Because you couldn’t even look at one guy or blame one guy; collectively we just didn’t get it done.”
The best performances for Louisville came from Chane Behanan, who went for 15 points and nine boards, and Russ Smith contributing 11 points. While for Michigan State the high men were Draymond Green, with 13 points and 16 rebounds, and Brandon Wood posting 14 points.
For the first couple minutes Draymond Green was having trouble finding his offensive rhythm but then began to make shots. His offense was sparked by his defense, especially when he had a massive block early in the half.
On the other side of the ball, Gorgui Dieng had one of his seven blocks, which tied his career-high, and got a huge dunk inside. Dieng also made the first 3-pointer of his career, (Dieng finished with five points).
“I was just wide open and I took the shot.” Dieng said. “I know he never — I never see him to get someone to take a shot when he’s wide open. He gets mad sometimes when we take the shot. I was wide open and I took it and it went in.”
At the 11:02 mark in the first half Louisville started with a soft press that pressured the ball-handler. However, the Cardinals’ defense was severely compromised when Green got free for a rim-shaking slam. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Green was relegated to the bench for a while after that.
Michigan State’s offense struggled for most of the game, only shooting 28.6 percent from the field. Louisville wasn’t too much better, but its 38.2-percent rate from the floor and 9-for-23 3-point shooting provided a cushion.
With 5:43 to go in the first half, the Spartans were having a tough time executing on offense, so Izzo inserted Green back into the lineup. At the time, Louisville was leading 17-11. Michigan State’s offense got into gear with two transition layups, followed by a Green three.
With seconds to go in the half Louisville forward Jared Swopshire nailed a 3 to push its lead to five at the break.
At the 15:30 mark in the second half, only 13 fouls had been called, and this trend continued with what the crowd thought were no-calls as the game progressed. Around this time Louisville began to press harder than before, trying to create turnovers while up 35-25 with 12:57 to go in the game.
The game started to go back and forth from there, which was not what Michigan State needed. After a timeout, Michigan State’s Austin Thornton tried to throw the ball in to Green but it was thrown out of bounds, just out of the reach of Green.
“That’s something I haven’t done all year long.” Thornton said. “And the ball just kind of slipped on the initial pass. You aren’t just look at one play. Give Louisville an enormous amount of credit. They put pressure on us from start to finish. They really disrupted what we’re used to doing. It’s hard to game plan for how athletic and how quick and how good those guards are, and the big guy, he did a great job in the middle, too.”
After the Spartan mess-up, Adrein Payne got them back on track with a slam dunk underneath. To counteract that Louisville picked up the intensity and went on a 7-0 run to go up 11 with 9:10 to go.
At a 8:37 timeout, the tension was rising with questionable no-calls, big dunks and an 11-point Louisville lead. The Cardinals peaked at the right time, ballooning their lead to a game-high 15 with 1:11 to go and ended up winning by 13, bumping the Spartans from the NCAA tournament and preventing the team from making the Final Four for the first time under Izzo as a No. 1 seed.
“They played their solid defense.” Green said. “And we thought we was pretty well prepared for it. It’s not our coach’s fault. I think they gave us a great game plan. At the end of the day, players play, and we didn’t, we just didn’t execute well.”
Simple analysis after execution against the best defense in college basketball was anything but.