Duke runs through Spartans’ defense 81-61 for Final Four win

By Joshua Huff

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For four minutes Michigan State appeared as if it belonged with the four best teams left standing in the nation.

Then reality struck.

Once the shots stopped falling and the defense for Duke clamped down, the Blue Devils spit-shined their rearview mirror, stepped on the gas and left the Spartans in a cloud of blue dust that read 81-61. Michigan St. used up all its offense in one four minute span to open the game. The Spartans went 4-for-4 from three in the opening minutes, two contributed by Denzel Valentine, and took an improbable 14-6 lead.

Improbable because Michigan St. came into the game heavy underdogs. Against a superior Duke team, the assumption that the Spartans could win was predicated on whether they could hold Duke under 60 points and clamp down defensively. That didn’t happen.

Instead Duke absorbed the Spartan’s first-round blow, brushed aside the knockout attempt and proceeded to feed it to a hungry Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow. Those two, along with Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones worked the Spartans in the paint to the tune of 42 points. Michigan St. had no answer for drives into the lane or post ups by Okafor. Instead it just fouled the Blue Devils, who ended up shooting 27 free throws.

On the offensive end, Michigan St. played even worse. Players with open layups would inexplicably pass up the shot and dish it back out for an eventual missed jumper. With post players like Matt Costello and Branden Dawson, the Spartans had no go-to player on the block that could shoot. A weakness that somehow alluded them until tonight.

The Spartans would try and chip away at the lead throughout the game, but they never could get it below 10.

So with 1:12 left in the game, and Michigan State’s head coach Tom Izzo somehow still smiling on the sideline, the Duke faithful felt that breeze of victory sweep through Lucas Oil Stadium and roared its joy.

The Spartan’s season, however, was over. Though they lost, the success of this Michigan St. team should not be overlooked. The saying goes that defense wins championships, but the Spartans realized that only offense puts you in the position to get to the National Championship.