Spartans hot and healthy

MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer Published:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Tom Izzo likes this postseason look.

No. 22 Michigan State is getting hot and healthy just in time for the start of the NCAA tournament.

Adreian Payne finished with 18 points and nine rebounds and Branden Dawson added 15 points to help the third-seeded Spartans overpower No. 8 Michigan 69-55 on Sunday for its fourth Big tTen tournament title.

This is not the same team that frustrated Izzo for so much of the season. Nope, these Spartans are starting to round into their usual March form.

"You don't get many teams that are talented, have inside and outside, show toughness, are together, have great chemistry," Izzo said. "I've said three times in my career that I thought we were good enough to get to a Final Four. I thought this team was next in line."

Perhaps, though the Spartans apparently needed to do more than win three games in three days and four of their last five to get their preferred NCAA tournament destination.

Michigan State (26-8) wound up with the No. 4 seed in the East Regional and will open tourney play Thursday against 13th-seeded Delaware in Spokane, Wash. Izzo was hoping to stay in the Midwest where the regional round is being played in Indy, one of the Spartans' favorite cities.

Sunday's victory allowed Michigan State to pull off a rare double -- winning the Big Ten football and basketball tourney titles -- in venues less than a mile apart. Izzo won his only national championship in Indianapolis, played here in the 2010 Final Four and won a 2009 regional at Lucas Oil Stadium, a win that sent the Spartans to the Final Four in Detroit.

And he's not the only one who likes coming back.

Gary Harris, Indiana's 2012 Mr. Basketball, scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half to help the Spartans get started Sunday. He went to the bench early in the second half after hurting his left shoulder but returned later.

Dawson, another Indiana native, scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half and was named the tourney's Most Outstanding Player.

"It feels great to just have our rhythm and chemistry back and to see us playing that way as a team," Dawson said.

The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak and may have cost Michigan a top seed in the NCAA tourney, but it could be back in Indy in two weeks.

Last year's national runner-up and this year's Big Ten regular season champs drew the second seed in the Midwest. The Wolverines (25-8) will play Thursday against 15th-seeded Wofford, a team that has some inside information on Michigan. Wofford assistant coach Darris Nichols was coach John Beilein's point guard at West Virginia.

Michigan came into the weekend with the top seed, their first outright league title in 28 years and a chance to amend for the frustrations of past Big Ten tourneys.

Instead, three games in three days -- two that went down to the final shot -- seemed to sap Michigan of its energy and its shooting touch.

The Wolverines shot 31.5 percent from the field, nearly matching their season low of 31.1 percent in a November loss at Charlotte. They were also outrebounded 38-28 and needed a 3-pointer from Zak Irvin with 49 seconds left just to avoid matching its lowest point total of the season.

Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas finished with 17 points and was selected to the all-tournament team. Derrick Walton Jr. had 11 points and was the only other Michigan player to reach double figures.

"They were definitely a hungry team from the jump ball," Stauskas said. "They deserve this one. They played a great game, they got every loose ball, every rebound and they just played harder than us today."

The difference may have been continuity and rest.

Michigan State used the same starting five for the fifth straight game, the first time that's happened all season.

And while the Wolverines were trying to sneak past Illinois and Ohio State, the Spartans reached the title game by routing Northwestern on Friday and handling Wisconsin rather easily in the semifinals.

Michigan was in trouble right from the start.

The Spartans used a 12-0 run to take a 16-9 lead and never gave it up. They led 25-14 midway through the first half after getting Michigan's top two big men -- Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford and drawing a technical on Beilein.

Harris ended the half emphatically, too, taking a pass at midcourt and driving right through Michigan's defense for a one-handed dunk to make it 38-29.

Michigan State then opened the second half with eight straight points to extend the lead to 46-29. Michigan never got closer than 10 again.

Izzo couldn't have come up with a more perfect script for March.

"The biggest thing we needed was to play three games," Izzo said. "We needed more and more games together. We're starting to feel the rhythm again. Other years, I never wanted to lose right away, but if your team is worn out or something and it's not going to change your seeding much, you look at it differently. This year was very important that we moved on."


No. 6 VIRGINIA 72, No. 7 DUKE 63

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Malcolm Brogdon scored 23 points and No. 6 Virginia claimed its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title since 1976 by beating No. 7 Duke 72-63 on Sunday.

Tournament MVP Joe Harris added 15 points and hit the backbreaking 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes remaining for the top-seeded Cavaliers (28-6).

They shot 45 percent, frustrated the Blue Devils into 38 percent shooting and used a late 12-3 run to pull away and claim the second ACC tournament title in school history.

Jabari Parker scored 23 points on 9-of-24 shooting for the third-seeded Blue Devils (26-8), who were making their 31st appearance in the championship game but were denied their ACC-record 20th title.

Anthony Gill added 12 points and was 10 of 17 from the free-throw line for Virginia.

Duke as a team was just 7 of 11 from the line.


ST. JOSEPH'S 65, No. 23 VCU 61

NEW YORK (AP) -- Langston Galloway scored 19 points and hit yet another huge 3-pointer, and Saint Joseph's beat No. 23 VCU 65-61 on Sunday to win its first Atlantic 10 tournament title since 1997.

The fourth-seeded Hawks (24-9) arrived in Brooklyn on the NCAA tournament bubble. They all but clinched an at-large berth with a win over fellow bubble team Dayton in Friday's quarterfinals on Galloway's go-ahead 3, then made that moot by capturing the conference's automatic bid.

The second-seeded Rams (26-8) have reached the A-10 tourney finals in both years in the league but lost both times.



ATLANTA -- Top-ranked Florida capped a perfect run through the Southeastern Conference when Kentucky failed to get off a shot on its final possession, allowing the Gators to escape with a 61-60 victory in the league championship game Sunday.

Florida (32-2) built a 16-point lead early in the second half, but Kentucky nearly pulled off an improbable comeback to hand the Gators their first loss since early December. Two missed free throws gave the Wildcats (24-10) a final possession, but James Young slipped trying to drive into the lane.

The Gators extended their school-record winning streak to 26 games and awaited a sure No. 1 seed when the NCAA pairings are announced Sunday evening. Patric Young and Michael Frazier II led Florida with 14 points apiece, while Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather had 11 each.

Kentucky, also headed for the NCAAs, was paced by Aaron Harrison with 16 points.



NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Xavian Rimmer scored a career-high 27 points, Louisiana-Lafayette rallied from a 9-point deficit in the last three minutes of regulation to force overtime and the Ragin' Cajuns beat Georgia State 82-81 in the Sun Belt Conference championship game Sunday.

The third-seeded Ragin' Cajuns (23-11) earned an automatic bid to their first NCAA tournament since 2005.

Ryan Harrow scored a career-high 37 points for Georgia State but missed an off-balance, driving bank shot in the final seconds. The top-seeded Panthers (25-7) had won 22 of their last 23 games.

After tying the score on a putback with 1.4 seconds left in regulation, Lafayette, which grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, took the lead for good, 80-77, with a 6-0 run in overtime that Elfrid Payton capped off with a layup off a Georgia State turnover.

Rimmer hit seven 3-pointers to keep UL-Lafayette within range until its final comeback.

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