Michigan State holds off Northern Iowa 59-52
AP Basketball Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) – No big shots from Ali Farokhmanesh. No mid-major magic.
Just another trip to the regional finals for Michigan State.
Durrell Summers scored 19 points and Korie Lucious hit a whirling turnaround jumper with 91 seconds left, helping the fifth-seeded Spartans survive a scare with a 59-52 win over pesky Northern Iowa in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday night.
Playing without injured star Kalin Lucas, Michigan State (27-8) needed a half to get used to Northern Iowa’s grinding style and held the Panthers to 10 free throws and no field goals over the final 10:21 to send the Heartland heroes home.
Always at their best in the NCAA tournament, the Spartans are one win from a sixth trip to the Final Four in 12 years. They’ll play Sunday against sixth-seeded Tennessee, which beat No. 2 Ohio State 76-73 earlier Friday night.
“I knew it would be just a gut-it-out game. I’m sure everybody predicted it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s kind of enjoyable, to find a way. It’s somewhat more rewarding than the last two.”
Northern Iowa (30-5) knocked off one college basketball giant but couldn’t make it two straight, unable to contain the athletic Spartans for an entire game after stunning top-seeded Kansas in the second round.
Adam Koch had 13 points and Kwadzo Ahelegbe 12 for the Panthers, but Farokhmanesh, the early-round star, was just 1 for 6 from 3-point range.
“We knew this was going to be a tremendous challenge and they played exactly how we thought they were going to,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “I’m obviously very proud of our guys.”
Michigan State, last year’s national runner-up, turned the game on defense in the second half, escaping with a difficult win as Lucas watched from the bench in a walking boot.
Lucious, the replacement for Lucas who beat the buzzer with a game-winning 3 against Maryland in the second round, hit his acrobatic shot, spinning from the defense and falling away toward the top of the key. Michigan State held, then Chris Allen followed with a putback with 31 seconds left, putting the Spartans up 57-51.
“The second half, we went inside more and it created a lot more opportunities for us,” Izzo said. “Let me tell you something – that’s a good team.”
A few years back, maybe this was a mismatch: the powerhouse from the Big Ten against the scrappy mid-major.
Not this year.
Northern Iowa has done its best to shake the underdog tag, reaching the NCAA tournament five of past seven years, moving into the round of 16 this year for the first time with wins over UNLV and top overall seed Kansas.
Farokhmanesh ran off the Runnin’ Rebels with a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left in the opening round, then topped it with a no-no-no-great-shot! 3 to take out the Jayhawks. The son of an Iranian Olympic volleyball player, Farokhmanesh has become a folk hero back in Cedar Falls, a Stephen Curry-like sensation to the rest of the country.
Of course, all the Panthers have moved into a new level of fame, appearing on magazine covers, fans from all over jumping aboard the purple-powered bandwagon.
“Our community rallied around our team, our students rallied around these guys and that’s because of their personalities,” Jacobson said.
Michigan State has been the monument of the bracket under Izzo: 13 straight NCAA tournaments, seven trips to the round of 16, five Final Fours, a national title in 2000.
This has been a little tougher trip.
The resilient Spartans survived a whack-a-mole-like season filled with winning streaks, injuries, suspensions and benchings.
The latest downturn came in the second round, when Lucas ruptured his Achilles’ tendon against Maryland, leaving the Spartans without their scoring, assists and all-around leader.
Having Allen and forward Delvon Roe hampered by lingering injuries wasn’t going to make it any easier.
“It’s kind of hard when you lose your floor general,” Michigan State forward Draymond Green said, referring to Lucas.
Northern Iowa took advantage early.
Grinding the game down with their smothering defense, the Panthers got the tempo they wanted: slow-and-not-so-easy.
Koch, previously quiet in the postseason, scored nine quick points and Northern Iowa held the Spartans to 7-of-22 shooting, going into halftime with a 29-22 lead on Ahelegbe’s buzzer-beating jumper.
But the Spartans fought back.
Appearing more comfortable against Northern Iowa’s swarming man defense, Michigan State hit six of its first seven shots during an opening 16-5 run, going up 38-34 on Roe’s sky-high alley-oop off a sore knee.
Northern Iowa responded in typical fashion, setting up a foul-filled final 7 minutes that Michigan State grinded into another regional final appearance.
“I love March,” Izzo said with a smile.