…to a Final Four: Michigan State, Duke Move On

The Final Four stage has been set.

With the completion of the final two games of the Elite Eight round Sunday, the last four teams have been decided- the remaining contenders for the National title.

But, before we get into any analysis of next weekend’s Final Four matchups, and the ultimate National Championship face-off, let’s take a look at how Sunday’s games played out, and find out just who are the final two teams to reach the Final Four:

4 Louisville Cardinals 70
7 Michigan State Spartans 76 (OT)

There’s something about March that brings out the best in coach Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.

Michigan State's Matt Costello drives to the basket against Louisville's Montrezl Harrell during the Spartans 76-70 overtime win Sunday. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

Michigan State’s Matt Costello drives to the basket against Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell during the Spartans 76-70 overtime win Sunday. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

The Spartans, who have appeared in 18 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, knocked off Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals Sunday in overtime, 76-70, to advance to the Final Four, and move beyond their Elite Eight exit of 2014.

Michigan State reached the Elite Eight last season before losing to the eventual National Champion UConn Huskies. For Louisville, the 2013 National Champions, their 2015 season comes to an end in the Elite Eight, following a Sweet Sixteen exit last season at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Senior Travis Trice led the Spartans with 17 points over the course of a team-high 44 minutes, while Denzel Valentine added 15 points, 7 rebounds, and six assists on the stat sheet. Off the bench, Bryn Forbes chipped in 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range.

The Cardinals relied heavily on the offense of senior Wayne Blackshear who netted a game-high 28 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line. Montrezl Harrell pitched in with 16 points and 9 rebounds in the loss. Terry Rozier shot a dismal 6-of-23 on the night for Louisville in a game-high 45 minutes on the floor, finishing with 13 points.

A tightly-contested first half began to unravel for Michigan State with just under 8 minutes remaining on the clock, as a 22-22 tie became a 37-32 Louisville lead over the course of five minutes, capped off by a layup by Terry Rozier. Louisville would take a 40-32 lead into halftime, after keeping the Spartans from scoring in the last four minutes of the half.

The Spartans opened the second half with a 9-2 run to pull themselves within one point of the Cardinals. Michigan State’s comeback effort would come to a head with 8:26 remaining in the half, when a three-pointer from Bryn Forbes put the Spartans ahead 54-51, and was followed soon after by a Travis Trice three-point jumper to give Michigan State a six-point lead.

Following a pair of late lead changes, the Spartans held a slim 65-64 lead entering the final 30 seconds of regulation. Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang was called for a foul with 22 seconds to go, but Michigan State’s Marvin Clark Jr. missed both free throw attempts. 16 seconds later, Mathiang found himself at the free-throw line, with a chance to put Louisville back in front. He would go 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, sending the game to overtime tied 65-65.

An early three-pointer from Forbes for Michigan State set the tone for the overtime period, as the Spartans raced out to a six-point lead over the first three minutes. A pair of made free throws by Blackshear would bring the Cardinals within two points as the overtime entered its final minute, but it would not be enough as the Spartans prevailed 76-70.

With their own destiny decided, Michigan State awaited the outcome of the still-to-be-played game between the Duke Blue Devils and Gonzaga Bulldogs, to find out who they would be meeting next weekend in the Final Four.

1 Duke Blue Devils 66
2 Gonzaga Bulldogs 52

In what was a close game for the majority of the second half, the Duke Blue Devils took better care of the basketball, forcing the Gonzaga Bulldogs into 13 turnovers en route to a 66-52 victory in the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional Final.

Duke's Quinn Cook fires up a shot in front of Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos in the second half of the Blue Devils 66-52 win. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

Duke’s Quinn Cook fires up a shot in front of Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos in the second half of the Blue Devils 66-52 win. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

Though Gonzaga actually shot better from the field overall, Duke hit 8-of-19 from three-point range, while the Bulldogs managed to sink just two of ten three-point attempts.

Freshman Justise Winslow and sophomore Matt Jones led the way for the Blue Devils, each netting 16 points on the evening. Tyus Jones chipped in 15 points while dishing out six assists and Quinn Cook rounded out the Duke scorers in double figures, adding 10 points.

In the loss, the Bulldogs offense was paced by Kyle Wiltjer who scored a team-high 16 points and pulled down five rebounds. Byron Wesley finished the night as the only other Bulldogs player in double-figures, pouring in 10 points. Kevin Pangos struggled from the field, shooting just 2-of-8, in a game-high 40 minutes on the floor.

Early in the first half, the Blue Devils had their way with the Bulldogs, jumping out to a 10-point lead within the game’s opening nine minutes. The Bulldogs were able to close the gap, however, narrowing the deficit to just one with under four minutes remaining in the half, and went into halftime down by five, 31-26.

Gonzaga opened the second half on a 12-3 run, making their way to a four-point advantage just over three-and-a-half minutes into action. But the Blue Devils fought right back, taking a six-point lead at the halfway point of the period, and extending that to double-digits in the final minute of the game, to escape the Elite Eight with a win, moving on to the Final Four.

Their opponent will be the surprise Michigan State Spartans, and they will play next Saturday.

The other Final Four matchup, to be played next Saturday, will see the Kentucky Wildcats taking on the Wisconsin Badgers.