AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - They played for the national championship last night at The Palace.
Michigan State won.
The score was 75-64 in a game that had everything imaginable.
There were amazing plays, amazing players, bad officiating, unbelievable competition, one coach getting tossed and the other receiving a crucial technical foul.
OK, so the Spartans technically only captured the Midwest Regional championship in beating Iowa State and will advance to the Final Four for the second consecutive year.
But after this game it would seem everything else will be anticlimatic.
This was the only region of the NCAA Tournament that wasn't whacked out.
It pitted the No. 1-seeded Spartans against the No. 2 Cyclones. The other three regions have lost their marquee teams.
They might as well be playing to see who gets to go on spring break first.
The Spartans would appear to be head and shoulders above the remaining teams in the tournament. All of the other number one and two seeds are long gone.
MSU's next game, for instance, is against Wisconsin, a team State has already beaten three times this season.
The Badgers finished sixth in the Big Ten Conference and might have had to use their first victory in the Big Ten Tournament just to get into the NCAA field of 64.
It's still possible that Wisconsin and Tulsa could meet for the national championship a week from tomorrow in Indianapolis. Wouldn't that make CBS happy? Maybe they would reschedule the game for the afternoon. That might be an event viewers would want preempted by Heidi.
MSU defeated the Badgers 59-54 in East Lansing. It was the Spartans' lowest total at home by 10 points in a game the Badgers typically made hideous, if not prosperous.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was absorbing slaps on the back after his team eliminated Syracuse here Thursday night. But with every slap came smack about how the Spartans had to struggle against supposedly inferior opposition. It was the second time MSU had trailed at halftime.
"Before you canonize us . . . I know some people think we're playing the Iron Mountain YMCA," Izzo explained, putting in a plug for his hometown, "but we're playing some good people. I think we've gotten crazy on the other side of the coin."
For sure MSU couldn't make heads or tails out of how to stop Iowa State, the Cyclones outhustling MSU for most of the game. The true measure was that Marcus (Fizer) and The Midgets were outrebounding the best rebounding team in America 19-8 at intermission. The Spartans trailed 12-1 in bounds at one point.
Michigan State led 34-31 at halftime, but this wasn't the Ames YMCA.
With three minutes to play, MSU guard Charlie Bell put his team in front 62-61. The Spartans would never trail again but needed six consecutive free throws with nine seconds left before they clearly had the Cyclones stoned . . . Flintstoned that is.
That was when Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy lost control of his emotions and charged official Curtis Shaw and quickly collected two technicals and one ejection.
Hutson made two free throws and then A.J. Granger, who played at Liberty-Benton High School, made all four technical fouls for the final margin of victory.
"I think this is the most incredible game I've ever been involved with at Michigan State as far as two teams that battled, battled and battled," Izzo said. "These guys are special. I thank God we were able to come up with a victory."
The Cyclones were up against a No. 1 seed and the No. 2 team in the polls playing, virtually, on its home court. This was also a Spartan team that hadn't lost in this state in two years.
Iowa State couldn't have cared less. It was the aggressor and the second-best team in this tournament.
With apologies to everyone remaining, including Michigan State, this was for the national championship. No question.
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