Spartans stun UConn

As his Michigan State teammates hustled downcourt, Kalin Lucas looked around at a stadium ablaze in green and white, turned on his megawatt smile and raised both his arms.

Michigan State's Raymar Morgan fights for a loose ball with Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet (34) and Craig Austrie during State's 82-73 upset win on Saturday.

Michigan State 82 Connecticut 73

DETROIT — As his Michigan State teammates hustled downcourt, Kalin Lucas looked around at a stadium ablaze in green and white, turned on his megawatt smile and raised both his arms.

No worries, he seemed to be saying, we’ve got you.

Carrying an entire state knocked down by the economic crisis is a lot to ask of a group of college kids, but the Spartans are proving they’re more than up to the task.

“It means so much, so much,” said Magic Johnson, who sat just a few rows behind the Michigan State bench Saturday night. “It’s been all bad news the last couple of years.”

It’s nothing but good news now. Lucas scored 21 points, Raymar Morgan broke out of his late-season slump with 18 and nine rebounds, and the smaller Spartans ran roughshod over Hasheem Thabeet and Connecticut in an 82-73 upset in the Final Four on Saturday night.

The Spartans (31-6) now will play North Carolina for the NCAA title Monday night, giving the city and state at least two more days to forget all the bad news and revel in their Spartans’ success.

It’s Michigan State’s first appearance in the title game since 2000, when the Spartans won their second title.

“One thing we talked about is bringing hope to the city for a whole weekend,” said Travis Walton, who dished out eight assists. “People forgetting about their problems, forgetting about what they’re going through, just focusing on us and focusing on Michigan State.

“From the moment we were on that court and we won that game, people didn’t think about what they was going through outside of this. They was just happy that we won and they can continue to cheer for us on Monday.”

How’s this for some karma? Johnson, Spartan-in-chief since leading Michigan State to its first title in 1979, will present the game ball before Monday’s title game along with Larry Bird.

“I hope we were a ray of sunshine, a distraction for them, a diversion, anything else we can be,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We’re not done yet, so hopefully we can continue to make them feel a little better and us feel a lot better.”

The loss is the latest blow for UConn, the best team in the country until Jerome Dyson went down with a knee injury in mid-February. The Huskies (31-5) have been dealing with distractions since last May, when coach Jim Calhoun was diagnosed with his third bout with cancer, and are now facing questions about alleged recruiting violations.

The loss snapped Calhoun and Connecticut’s perfect run in the Final Four. They’d made it twice before — 1999 and 2004 — and went on to win the title each time.

UConn cut an 11-point deficit to 4 in 49 seconds, getting within 3 with a minute to go. But the outcome was never really in doubt. Durrell Summers, a Detroit native who experienced firsthand the hardships his city and state are enduring when both parents were laid off, converted a three-point play to put the game out of reach.

Flashbulbs popped throughout the arena as the final seconds ticked down. After huddling at midcourt, the Spartans walked to the edge of the floor and saluted the Final Four-record crowd of 72,456, about two-thirds of which was pulling for Michigan State.

“It was a memorable game that I won’t forget,” Izzo said. “Except we’ve got another one.”

The UConn players walked slowly off the court, looking shell-shocked that their season had ended. Thabeet left with a towel draped over his face.

“I’ve got a lot of kids in there crying right now,” Calhoun said. “But they had a great season. It hasn’t been that easy to stay focused the past few weeks. But I give (Izzo) a great deal of credit.”

This was supposed to be a battle of big men.

UConn’s Thabeet had been a one-man swat team, averaging a double-double and winning defensive player of the year in the burly Big East for a second straight year. Michigan State’s Goran Suton led the equally gritty Big Ten in rebounding and had averaged a double-double in the NCAA tournament.

But the matchup never developed.

The Spartans are veterans of the down-and-dirty Big Ten, but they can run some, too, and Izzo made no secret of his plan to use their speed to keep Thabeet out of his comfort zone.

Thabeet led the Huskies with 17 points and six rebounds, but it was the quietest 17 points anyone’s ever had. He looked gassed from the opening tipoff, leaning over, tugging on his shorts and gasping for air not even six minutes into the game. Aside from the first few possessions of the second half, he actually looked lost down low.

Or as lost as a seven-foot-three guy can look.

“This ended up being who made the small plays made the big difference,” Calhoun said.

The most aggressive Thabeet got was at the end of the first half, getting in Marquise Gray’s face after Jeff Adrien and Walton got tangled up under Connecticut’s basket. There was some pushing and shoving, prompting Calhoun to come all the way from the other end of the floor to calm his players. But the dust-up fizzled quickly, and no technicals were even called.

Suton, who had the main job of corralling Thabeet, didn’t score his first field goal until early in the second half and finished with four points and seven boards.

Stanley Robinson and A.J. Price had 15 each for Connecticut, and Robinson added 13 rebounds.

Just Posted

Avid Penhold climber Catlin Hannah’s death a reminder of the dangers of scrambling

Hannah never returned from his Mount Smuts attempt on Aug. 12.

Children, elderly at risk as smoke from distant fires hangs over parts of B.C.

VANCOUVER — Thick smoke blanketing British Columbia communities far from any flames… Continue reading

Trudeau: no apologies for heckler encounter, pledges to call out ‘hate speech’

OTTAWA — Hate speech and the politics of division are creating a… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP charge woman with drug trafficking

Rocky Mountain House RCMP have charged a woman with drug trafficking after… Continue reading

WATCH: Medicine River Wildlife Centre opens new playground

The grand opening of the playground was Saturday morning

Police chiefs want new data-sharing treaty with U.S. as privacy questions linger

OTTAWA — Canada’s police chiefs are pressing the Trudeau government to sign… Continue reading

Pope on sex abuse: “We showed no care for the little ones”

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis issued a letter to Catholics around the… Continue reading

Ottawa announces $189M to extend employment insurance for seasonal workers

ESCUMINAC, N.B. — Ottawa has announced $189 million for an employment insurance… Continue reading

Trudeau formally announces he’ll run again in next year’s election

MONTREAL — Justin Trudeau will run again in the 2019 federal election.… Continue reading

Smoke from B.C. wildfires prompts air quality advisories across Western Canada

VANCOUVER — More smoky, hazy air is expected to blanket much of… Continue reading

Anti-pipeline protesters released days before weeklong jail sentences end

MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. — Several pipeline protesters were released from a British… Continue reading

All eyes on Andrew Scheer as Conservative convention set for Halifax

OTTAWA — After a week of internal caucus squabbles, Conservative Leader Andrew… Continue reading

Trump says his White House counsel not a ‘RAT’ like Nixon’s

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump insisted Sunday that his White House… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month