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MINNEAPOLIS – State of Michigan basketball Coach Tom Izzo sat on a stool on the sidewalk and leaned back in exasperation as the season receded.
The Spartans were fighting and scraping in the semifinal on Saturday night against Texas Tech, but nothing was falling.
Matt McQuaid missed a three-point shot, limped into the court and Izzo grabbed his head in frustration.
Cbadius Winston, MSU's tremendous point guard, missed a triple and Izzo crossed his arms, squeezing hard.
Nick Ward missed a free kick and Izzo looked down at the ground.
Nothing was falling.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo reacts to a play during the first half of the Spartan Final Four game against Texas Tech at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Saturday, April 6, 2019. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Not when they needed it the most, as Texas Tech squeezed a 61-51 victory over the Spartans.
It was an incredible race for the Spartans, a tremendous season, as they overcame all kinds of injuries.
But it ended with disappointment. The Spartans had an incredible opportunity to reach the national championship, after defeating Duke and reaching the Final Four.
He was sitting right there on the counter, but they could not grab him.
Not on a night when the Spartans missed too many shots and turned the ball too much and could not stop the Red Raiders.
Part of the credit goes to the Texas Tech defense, a lot, really. Give them all the credit in the world.
MSU has just learned what Michigan discovered a week ago: Texas Tech is a fantastic team with a championship defense.
But some of this was in MSU, too.
MSU could not take advantage when Jarrett Culver, the future player of the Texas Tech NBA, was out with fouling problems.
And MSU could not take advantage when Texas Tech 6-foot-10 forward Tariq Owens limped off the field.
The MSU defense disappeared in the second half, and Texas Tech made nine of its first 11 shots of the second half, including three consecutive triples, building a 45-33 lead.
Even so, the Spartans defended themselves.
They cut in the front. He made it interesting.
But those shots just would not fall.
And the season vanished.
The Spartans came out attacking the Texas Tech defense with a patient and deliberate approach, trying to get the ball inside and then cleaning it around the perimeter to get an open triple.
That looks great when the ball is moving and the shots are falling.
And it works when the Spartans have the correct alignment on the court.
But fouling problems totally ruined the Spartans in the first half.
Both Nick Ward and Aaron Henry had two fouls in the first half.
The minutes pbaded without any of the two teams scoring.
Lost bridge Defensive rebound. To block. I lost 3 points. I lost 3 points. Tray missing Infraction of the shot clock.
And then, finally, the ball got stuck between the edge and the board, which seemed an appropriate metaphor for this first half.
It was a great defense,
But it was also ineffective offensive.
At halftime, Texas Tech led 23-21 at halftime, presenting a wild similarity.
MSU shot 30.4%; Texas Tech shot 30.8%
MSU had two players with two fouls; Texas Tech had two players with two fouls.
MSU made four triples, Texas Tech made four triples.
The biggest advantage of MSU was 5, the biggest advantage of Texas Tech was 5.
Great scenery, in fact
The lights went out at the US Bank Stadium, and the lights on the cell phones went on like a concert.
A focus of attention hit all Michigan State students dressed in white.
And the crowd was huge.
What is lost on television is the enormity of everything. The size of the sand: the court seems to put a postage stamp in a large box.
"Have you ever seen a stadium like this?" I asked Gabe Brown earlier this week.
"Never, in my life," he said. "It's just huge, I know there will be so many people screaming and screaming, it's going to be fun, it's not intimidating."
"Does it take a while to see the edge, with the wide space behind it?"
"Growing up, there is a school next to my house. Salina High School. Your gym is like that. "
"I do not like it, it's smaller, but through the board, you can see people, things like that, that took time to adapt, but I got used to it."
Brown had the opportunity to impact this first half. He got additional minutes after Aaron Henry came out with two fouls.
But Brown missed his first three triples.
I point this out, not to make excuses. But throw a little light on how is this moment. It is bigger than life. It makes everything exaggerated. The joy of victory. And the pain of loss.
And on this night, this loss will stay with Izzo and these players for the rest of their lives.
One day, they will realize that this was an incredible achievement, only to get that far.
But it will also hurt forever. Because this game was right there to be taken.
But they could not make shots.
Get in touch with Jeff Seidel: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read their recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.