AUSTIN, Texas - With one high-flying display of muscle and moxie, Maurice Ager and the Michigan State Spartans put the exclamation point on their bruising run through the NCAA tournament.
Taking a pass from Alan Anderson on a fastbreak in the second half, Ager took one step and leaped high over Duke's J.J. Redick before hammering down a spectacular tomahawk dunk. He then pounded his chest with his fist.
The jam and Ager's emotional outburst was indicative of the Spartans' rugged 78-68 win over the top-seeded Blue Devils in the Austin Regional last night. The fifth-seeded Spartans (25-6) moved within a game of the Final Four and finally gave coach Tom Izzo his first win over Duke and Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"I reminded our guys no Michigan State team in the modern era has ever beaten Duke," Izzo said.
He was 0-4 against the Blue Devils and Krzyzewski, including a loss in the 1999 Final Four, the year before the Spartans won the national title.
"I didn't give them a Knute Rockne speech," Izzo said. "I just told them to give me 40 intense minutes."
Intense indeed, and it was the Spartans' depth and strength that made it a miserable night for Redick and the Blue Devils (27-6).
Paul Davis had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Anderson scored 17, and the Spartans sent wave after wave of defenders out to the perimeter to bottle up Redick, holding the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year to 13 points.
Davis provided the muscle in the middle. His late 3-point play fouled out Blue Devils forward Shelden Williams with the outcome still in doubt.
"They have a big force in the middle in Shelden Williams but we felt like we had a big force in the middle, too," Anderson said. "From the opening tip to the end, he was aggressive."
The loss ended Krzyzewski's bid for an 11th Final Four.
Like most of their season, the Blue Devils had their "Big Three" of Redick, Williams and Daniel Ewing but little else when it counted against the Spartans, who substituted early and often in an effort to wear them down.
Williams scored 19 points but the tenacious Spartans defense forced 22 Duke turnovers and gave up little ground in the middle in the second half.
"They took away our vision and we didn't see open players," Krzyzewski said. "It was like rushing the quarterback. With pressure you can't see your receiver."
The football analogy was appropriate considering the physical style the Spartans played. Michigan State outrebounded Duke 16-9 on the offensive glass and 38-33 overall.
Redick had the toughest night with another sub-par NCAA tournament game as he struggled just to get off a shot.
"We've been in a lot of games like tonight, but we haven't had many with 22 turnovers," Redick said. He didn't take his first shot until hitting a 10-footer with 10:17 left in the first half. By late in the half, he was shaking his head at the officials.
"J.J. was open, we just didn't see him," Krzyzewski said. Redick was just two of six from the field in the first half.