Michigan State needed a vintage Spartan performance to have any chance against second-seed Virginia in this year's round of 32.
Steady, suffocating defense? Check. Veteran-like postseason experience? Check again.
And with those two things in order, Michigan State was able to check off the victory.
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The Spartans built a five-point lead in the first half and carried it through for the 60-54 win over the Cavaliers, who were dominant during a 30-4 regular season (sporting an outrageous 16-2 record in the ACC).
Michigan State was led by Travis Trice, who scored 23 points, and forward Brandon Dawson, who stepped up with 15 points and nine rebounds. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers offense stalled, with only two players in double-digits (Forwards Darion Atkins, 10, and Anthony Gill, 11).
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How it happened
It started, and ended, with Trice.
The 6-foot senior scored 13 points at the beginning of the game, setting the tone with a 5-of-5 hot start and building the Spartans up to a 15-4 lead.
He was quiet for a bit and Virginia slowly battled back, getting within five points with just over three minutes to play.
And then it was Trice time again, and the guard delivered with a 28-foot three pointer that put the Spartans ahead for good. For the way he shut down the Cavaliers' championship hopes, you would of thought his nickname was the silencer.
Tom Izzo is known for preparing his teams for the postseason, and that seems to remain one of this squad's strengths.
But he is also well regarded for his ability to preach defensive pressure, and in that regard, the Spartans have struggled this season. They ranked 47th in adjusted defense and the coach himself admitted that they had to reign in some of his typical defensive packages this year to adjust to his lesser players.
"We're just not as talented as we've been, so we are always cheating to find a way to get an edge," Izzo said to ESPN, describing his decision to tell his guards to be less aggressive on giving help, and forcing his big men to be disciplined and guard well on screen plays.
Surprising out East
With the East Region's top seed Villanova also falling in the round of 32, this will be the first year that a No. 1 and 2 seed from the same region haven't advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2004. That year, Kentucky and Gonzaga both fell short.
It means that 8th-seeded NC State, which has already come up with big wins over LSU and the aforementioned Villanova, could very well be the team to beat.
Then again, Izzo's Spartans have shown fight before. And come tournament time, there's no one better. So here's hoping we see a Michigan State-NC State showdown in the upcoming Elite Eight.
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