NCAA Tournament Recap: Elite Eight, Day 2

Michigan State and Auburn clinch Final Four berths

Jon Simon
April 01, 2019 - 1:13 am

Photo: Amber Searls - USA TODAY Sports

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The Final Four of the NCAA Tournament is set.

After Virginia and Texas Tech punched their tickets to Minneapolis, Minnesota on Saturday, Michigan State and Auburn did the same on Sunday with wins in their Elite Eight matchups on Sunday. The Spartans knocked off the top-team in the tournament in Duke, while the Tigers' magical run continues after beating another top program in their region in Kentucky.

Here is a recap of the games from Sunday:

 

East Region Final (Washington, D.C.):

(2) Michigan State  – 68, (1) Duke – 67: 

Going into the regional finals, Michigan State was 1-11 against Duke under head coach Tom Izzo, who took over in 1995. The last time these two programs met in the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils defeated the Spartans in the 2015 Final Four en route to a National Championship. On Sunday night in the nation’s capital, Michigan State got their revenge and knocked-off the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, clinching their first Final Four appearance since that loss to Duke in 2015.

The Blue Devils’ loss most likely marks the end of Zion Williamson’s collegiate career as the freshman star is projected to go first overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. Williamson led Duke with 24 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.

Fellow freshman and top NBA prospect R.J. Barrett’s Duke career is also most likely done. Barrett finished with 21 points to go with six rebounds and six assists. Barrett finished the season as the fifth-leading freshman scorer in NCAA Division I history.

Cassius Winston, once again, led the way for Michigan State. The junior guard finished with 20 points, 10 assists and four steals. Xavier Tillman added 19 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks, despite sitting for a bit in the second half with foul trouble.

Michigan State’s defense had a great showing. While Williamson and Barrett had their typical performances, there wasn’t much support. The Blue Devils shot better than the Spartans overall and from three. They also out-rebounded Michigan State 42-31. However, Michigan State did a great job slowing Duke down in transition while still scoring fast-break points of their own. The Spartans finished with 20 transition points, while Duke scored just four, a season-low for the Blue Devils. Duke also committed 17 turnovers to Michigan State’s seven.

After a back-and-forth first 10 minutes, Duke pulled ahead and went up 30-21 with 5:24 to go in the first half. Michigan State responded with a 13-0 run over the final 4:30 to take a 34-30 lead into the locker room at halftime.

For the last 17:20 of the game, neither team led by more than four points. The second half was an all-out slugfest and quite an entertaining one at that.

Michigan State called a timeout down 66-65 with 44-seconds to go after getting a stop on defense. Out of the timeout, Kenny Goins drilled a three over Williamson’s out-stretched arm to give the Spartans a two-point lead.

Barrett missed a go-ahead three with 14-seconds to go, but Duke kept possession after a scramble, in which Michigan State's Matt McQuaid was the last to touch the ball before it went out of bounds. Barrett drew a foul and went to the line for two shots with six seconds to go. Barrett missed his first attempt and then made the second after trying to miss intentionally.

Duke had only committed four fouls in the second half, which meant they couldn’t put Michigan State at the free throw line and get the ball back for the final five-seconds. The Blue Devils fouled anyways, but it just led to the Spartans having to inbound by their bench. Winston ran by the in-bounder to get the pass and somehow had nothing but daylight in front of him. No. 5 in green got the ball and sprinted towards the Duke basket with just seconds to go, and instead of going for the layup, Winston peeled to the corner and threw the ball straight to the sky as the buzzer sounded.

The Spartans will be making their 10th Final Four appearance in program history and the eighth under Izzo. The win was also Michigan State’s 32nd of the season, the most they’ve had since 1999-2000, the last year they won a National Championship. They’ll take on the Texas Tech, the west region champion, for a trip to the title game on Saturday. It will be the Red Raiders first appearance in the Final Four. 

 

Midwest Region Final (Kansas City, MO): 

(5) Auburn – 77, (2) Kentucky – 71  (OT):

The fifth-seeded Tigers made history on Sunday, clinching the program’s first-ever trip to the Final Four with a win over the Wildcats. Kentucky bested Auburn twice during the regular season, but the Tigers proved that it’s hard to beat a team three times in the same year with an incredible overtime victory.

Auburn had to play through some adversity against Kentucky. The Tigers lost Chuma Okeke to a devastating injury at the end of the win over North Carolina on Friday, but head coach Bruce Pearl said Sunday’s victory was for him. Okeke ended up sitting behind the Tigers’ bench in the second half and was right in the middle of the post-game celebration.

The Tigers’ run to the Final Four isn’t just impressive due to the fact that it’s their first. Auburn defeated Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, three of college basketball’s “blue blood” schools to earn a trip to Minneapolis.

Kentucky led by five at halftime, but Auburn refused to go away in the second half. The game stayed close and neither side was able to go on a run to pull away.

A pair of baskets from P.J. Washington put Kentucky up 60-58 with less than a minute to go. Auburn tied the game at 60 with 37-seconds left thanks to a layup from Jared Harper. Kentucky missed on two chances to go ahead in the final seconds and Auburn’s Horace Spencer missed a three at the other end, sending the game to overtime.

Harper scored the first four points of overtime and Auburn never looked back from there, as the Tigers led the entire extra period after going up two. Harper led Auburn with 26 points to go with five assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Bryce Brown finished right behind Harper with 24 points for the Tigers and added three steals. Brown and Harper were the only two Auburn players to finish in double figures. Anfernee McLemore was the next-highest scorer with eight points.

Washington came off the bench and led all Kentucky scorers with 28 points and grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds. Keldon Johnson also finished with a double-double, scoring 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds for the Wildcats.

A three-pointer from Washington cut Kentucky’s deficit to three with 17-seconds left in overtime, but Auburn’s Samir Doughty put the Tigers up four with a free throw at the other end following Washington’s triple.

Auburn put a lid on the win after Johnson missed a jumper at the other end and fouled Harper with nine seconds to go. Harper hit both his free throws to put Auburn up six, sealing the victory.

The Tigers will take on top-seeded Virginia, the south region champions in the Final Four.

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