One year after upsetting Virginia in the Sweet 16, Michigan State played the underdog card yet again – this time in the Round of 32, beating the No. 2 Cavaliers, 60-54, on Sunday.
Senior guard Travis Trice scored 13 of the Spartans’ first 15 points and finished with a game-high 23, while Branden Dawson was a terror down low, tallying 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
No. 7 Michigan State (25-11), which will face No. 3 Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 this Friday, has won 10 of its last 13 games, with two of the three losses coming to Wisconsin and two of the three losses coming in overtime.
Virginia, meanwhile, lost three of its final five games after a 28-1 start. The Cavaliers finish 30-4.
Was Sunday’s result more about Michigan State finding its stride at the right time, or Virginia fading down the stretch?
“I think it’s probably a combination of both,” Virginia Tech basketball head coach Buzz Williams said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “When we played Virginia, we played them when Justin Anderson was on their team – and he was the difference in the game down the stretch. We got beat by three. We played them at home (and) got beat by three (50-47 on Jan. 25). When we played at their place, Justin Anderson wasn’t healthy.”
Anderson was out with a broken finger, but Virginia still won, 69-57, on Feb. 28.
“It was never a close game,” Williams said, “but they were a different team. And I think that all of of their guys got better, but I think when you’re trying to bring back a player – no matter how good he is – I just think that’s hard.”
Anderson underwent an emergency appendectomy in March. He returned for the ACC Tournament but was held scoreless in a combined 26 minutes of action against Florida State and North Carolina. The Cavaliers lost to the Tar Heels, 71-67, in the ACC semifinals, but received a 2-seed in the East Region and survived a late scare from Belmont in their first game, winning 79-67. Anderson finished with 15 points and five rebounds.
Against Michigan State, however, he wasn’t as effective, finishing with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting from the floor, including 0-of-4 from three-point range. Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins tried to pick up the slack, but it wasn’t enough. The Cavaliers shot 17-of-57 (29.8 percent) from the floor and a woeful 2-of-17 (11.8 percent) from three-point range.
And now their season is over.
“It’s almost like Coach (Tony) Bennett had three different teams,” Williams said. “The one with Anderson, the one without and the one back with Anderson the second time.”
Continuity is key in college basketball – and late in the season, Virginia didn’t have any.
The Spartans, on the other hand, kept getting better.
“I think Trice is playing out of his mind,” Williams said. “I think Branden Dawson is playing like a senior (who doesn’t want his career to end). You kind of get that vibe from watching them play, so I think it’s a combination of both.”