Michigan State coach Tom Izzo would rather play a team filled with “crazy athletes” than a solid team like the Georgia Bulldogs.
After the Spartans’ 70-63 victory Friday in the second round of the tournament, Izzo said he’d prefer not to go against a team that can run a little and grind it out at the end of the game.
That’s what he got in Georgia on Friday, and it’s what he’ll get Sunday against Virginia, a 79-67 winner over Belmont in Friday’s second game.
Fans in Charlotte will get what was the most anticipated potential match that could be played in Time Warner Cable Arena come Sunday – a well-coached Spartans team that’s able to run against a stingy defensive Virginia team that also has a good coach in Tony Bennett.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Nothing the Spartans did was flashy, other than a couple of no-look passes from guard Travis Trice in the first half. They shot 46 percent from the field, only made 58 percent of their free throws and were outrebounded 43-35.
But Michigan State had 18 assists to nine turnovers and forcing 12 by Georgia. The Spartans got solid contributions off the bench from guard Bryn Forbes (14 points) and relief minutes from Colby Wollenman and Marvin Clark Jr.
While the Spartans faltered late, allowing a 12-point lead with 2 minutes left be trimmed to three with 21 seconds remaining, Denzel Valentine’s free-throw shooting buoyed them. He went six-for-six from the line in the final 27 seconds to keep the Spartans in front.
“We don’t have the superstar syndrome and it’s been fun to watch them grow together,” Izzo said. “Sometimes, I’ve got to tell you, it’s an out-of-body experience once in awhile the things we do for no reason. Clock’s on our side, we talk about it and we’ve made a few mistakes. I guess somewhere seriously I’ve got to take onus on that because it’s my job to make sure they know what they’re doing at certain times. We’ll try to get better with that in the next two days.”
Virginia has the best scoring defense in the country, and the Cavs were fourth in the country in points per possession. Despite struggling against 15th-seeded Belmont Friday afternoon, Virginia’s defense will be a test for the Spartans, who like to get out and run on the break.
Michigan State had 19 fast-break points against Georgia, and Trice was the catalyst for most of them. Going against an injured Kenny Gaines for the Bulldogs, Trice had 15 points and six assists in the game.
“I knew he had missed some games toward the end of the year because of an ankle,” Trice said. “But at this point in the season all that goes out the window. You know he’s going to come out and play hard. He’s got a shot to play in the NCAA tournament so my thing was just sticking to our game plan.”
Sunday against the Cavaliers, Michigan State will again have to stick to the game plan and grind it out against a Virginia team that will try to do the same.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9