Branden Dawson said he and his Michigan State teammates have an “us against the world mentality” in the NCAA tournament.
The world better watch out.
For the second consecutive season, the Spartans eliminated Virginia from the tournament, this time with a gritty 60-54 victory Sunday against the No. 2 seed Cavaliers at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Seventh-seeded Michigan State (25-11) advances to the Sweet 16, where it will face No. 3 Oklahoma.
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“Coming into this tournament we just told each other, we see the coach’s game plan, we all play together (and) we bring in passion,” said Dawson, who had 15 points and nine rebounds.
“We trust one another, then the sky’s the limit for us. We keep playing the way we’re playing, we’ll definitely make a good run.”
Michigan State has made a believer of the Cavaliers (30-4), who became the first ACC team to exit the tournament.
“They’re playing good ball right now,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “They’re very tough, and they’ve got some guys who made some big plays in this setting.
“Stings right now, of course, the finality of the season after a heck of year with these guys, but it just leaves that feeling that you wish you could have taken it further.”
Last season, the Spartans upset then-No. 1 seed Virginia in the Sweet 16 on their way to an appearance in the Elite Eight.
Absent some talented seniors from last season’s roster and an up-and-down regular season, Michigan State again entered its matchup with Virginia as the underdog.
And again the Spartans refused to play the part.
Michigan State bolted to a 15-4 lead behind senior guard Travis Trice’s 13 points and still led 23-18 at halftime while holding the Cavaliers to 26.7 percent shooting from the field.
“I think of the way Virginia plays, they’re a team where if it’s a slowdown game, the momentum’s in their hands just because of the way they play,” Trice said. “Early on our thing was to attack from the get-go. Not just myself – everybody.”
Virginia only did slightly better in the second half.
The Cavaliers cut their deficit to 45-41 with 5 minutes, 33 seconds, but in their next three possessions missed two 3-point attempts and made one of two free throws.
Virginia never got closer than the final margin the rest of the way as it finished the game 2-of-17 from behind the 3-point line.
“I can’t tell you how good I think Virginia is,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who advanced to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the past eight seasons. “I do not think they played well today for Virginia. I guess we get a little credit for that.
“It’s just one of those days some guys miss some shots, it happens. It’s happened to us. But we’ve been a team all year that has banged around, probably lost more games than we should have.
“I’m really proud of this team. I don’t use that word lightly when I speak, and I am.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter