Taking a pass from Alan Anderson on a fastbreak in the second
half, Ager took one step and leaped high over Duke's J.J. Redick
before hammering down a spectacular tomahawk dunk. He then pounded
his chest with his fist.
The jam and Ager's emotional outburst was indicative of the
Spartans' rugged 78-68 win over the top-seeded Blue Devils in the
Austin Regional on Friday night. The fifth-seeded Spartans (25-6)
moved within a game of the Final Four and finally gave coach Tom
Izzo his first win over Duke and Coach K. They'll take on Kentucky, a 62-52 winner over Utah, in the regional
final with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
"I reminded our guys no Michigan State team in the modern era
has ever beaten Duke," Izzo said.
He was 0-4 against the Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski,
including a loss in the 1999 Final Four, the year before the
Spartans won the national title.
"I didn't give them a Knute Rockne speech," Izzo said. "I
just told them to give me 40 intense minutes."
Intense indeed, and it was the Spartans' depth and strength that
made it a miserable night for Redick and the Blue Devils (27-6).
Paul Davis had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Anderson scored 17,
and the Spartans sent wave after wave of defenders out to the
perimeter to bottle up Redick, holding the Atlantic Coast
Conference player of the year to 13 points.
Davis provided the muscle in the middle. His late 3-point play
fouled out Blue Devils forward Shelden Williams with the outcome
still in doubt.
"They have a big force in the middle in Shelden Williams but we
felt like we had a big force in the middle, too," Anderson said.
"From the opening tip to the end, he was aggressive."
The loss ended Krzyzewski's bid for an 11th Final Four.
Like most of their season, the Blue Devils had their "Big
Three" of Redick, Williams and Daniel Ewing but little else when
it counted against the Spartans, who substituted early and often in
an effort to wear them down.
Williams scored 19 points but the tenacious Spartans defense
forced 22 Duke turnovers and gave up little ground in the middle in
the second half.
"They took away our vision and we didn't see open players,"
Krzyzewski said. "It was like rushing the quarterback. With
pressure you can't see your receiver."
The football analogy was appropriate considering the physical
style the Spartans played. Michigan State outrebounded Duke 16-9 on
the offensive glass and 38-33 overall.
Redick had the toughest night with another sub-par NCAA
Tournament game as he struggled just to get off a shot.
He didn't take his first attempt until hitting a 10-footer with
10:17 left in the first half. By late in the half, he was shaking
his head at the officials.
"J.J. was open, we just didn't see him," Krzyzewski said.
Redick was just two of six from the field in the first half.
"We've been in a lot of games like tonight, but we haven't had
many with 22 turnovers," Redick said. "We weren't very strong
with the ball."
Redick hit three 3-pointers but the 94 percent free throw
shooter got to the line just twice.
Williams had to pick up the slack, and the muscular forward
pounded his way inside for 13 points as the teams went into
halftime tied at 32.
The Spartans grabbed their first lead with an 8-0 run early in
the second half. Anderson hit Michigan State's first 3-pointer, and
Shannon Brown followed it with a layup and another 3-pointer from
the left wing that made it 40-36 and forced Duke to call a timeout.
Anderson hit two more shots, and the Spartans appeared to have
grabbed complete control when Ager soared over Redick for the dunk,
then pounded his chest with his fist.
"We were so pumped up that it was hard to tell if there was a
turning point," said Ager, one of the Spartans who pestered Redick
all game. "We really just want to get after them and wear them
Redick immediately answered the dunk with a 3-pointer from the
top of the key and hit another that pulled Duke to 56-50 with 8:40
That's when the pace really picked up.
Duke appeared to pull within two when Williams grabbed the
rebound off Redick's missed 3-pointer and went up for a two-handed
dunk over Davis. But the ball spun and never dropped all the way
through when Williams grabbed the rim. The officials ruled it
offensive interference and disallowed the basket.
Duke cut it to 66-63 when Ewing stripped the ball from Anderson
and pulled up for a 3-pointer, but Williams fouled out 20 seconds
later and Davis converted the 3-point play.
Trying to make a play on the other end, Redick dribbled into the
lane and fired a pass between Ewing and Sean Dockery. Neither made
a move to get it, and the ball sailed out of bounds.
The Spartans then sealed it with free throws, hitting six of six
over the final minute to stretch the lead.
"This was a game you just didn't get tired in," Davis said.
"We just tried to wear them down. We did what we wanted to do."
Duke didn't grab an offensive rebound until there was 6:28
left in the first half. ... Michigan State thought it had a 34-32
at halftime when Anderson stole the ball from Dockery and went in
for a layup with 0.2 seconds left. But the officials disallowed the
points when it was determined the clock hadn't started on Duke's
inbounds pass before the steal .... Duke's 22 turnovers matched its
22 field goals.