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Spartans' win over UConn gives Detroit an emotional bailout

'Hometown' team takes down another top-seeded Big East opponent, providing a lift to fans in the economically beleaguered Final Four host city.

April 05, 2009|Shannon Ryan

DETROIT — Before Saturday's Final Four game at Ford Field, Kalin Lucas decided to become a Detroit native.

The Michigan State point guard asked to have his hometown on the official game roster changed from nearby Sterling Heights, Mich., to the city hosting the Final Four.

After Lucas' steady play Saturday in an 82-73 victory over Connecticut, the Spartans can set up residency for another couple of days in the hardscrabble city that has embraced them, until Monday's NCAA title-game showdown against North Carolina.

"It is hard times in Detroit," Lucas said. "So we just came out tonight, played hard, played aggressive for the whole 40 minutes."

As they had in the Midwest Regional final against another top-seeded team from the Big East, Louisville, the Spartans refused to back down. They stood toe to toe with bigger, stronger, longer UConn, proving their grit is equal to any opponent's muscle.

"We are the blue-collar team and this is the blue-collar city," said Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, whose team was seeded second in its regional.

The Spartans set the tone at tipoff, using all of the themes that delivered them to the doorstep of their first national championship since 2000.

When the Spartans briefly tussled with the Huskies under the basket -- sparked when hulking Connecticut forward Jeff Adrien and slightly built Michigan State guard Travis Walton tangled -- they proved that nobody was going to bully them in Ford Field.

"I knew we weren't going to back down from anybody," Izzo said.

Going 10 players deep, the Spartans rotate stars quicker than reality shows. Four players scored at least 10 points for the Spartans, perhaps none more timely than Raymar Morgan's 18.

While center Goran Suton, who was the Midwest Regional's most outstanding player, was quiet with only four points, the Spartans' depth was vital as their bench outscored Connecticut's, 33-7.

Morgan's confidence appeared shaky in three previous tournament games, as he scored no more than four points. Wearing a mask to protect a broken nose Saturday, he looked indestructible, making seven of 13 shots.

"I said if they were going to have an X factor it was going to be Raymar Morgan," Adrien said. "He could've waited a couple of days."

The Spartans played in front of a Final Four-record crowd of 72,456, the majority of whom were dressed green enough for St. Patrick's Day. The hometown following electrified them from the jump, when Michigan State grabbed a quick 9-2 lead.

Connecticut took a five-point lead midway through the first half, but the Spartans came back to lead, 38-36, at halftime -- before the Huskies stormed out of the locker room with a 6-0 run to start the second half.

Durrell Summers, who came off the Michigan State bench to score all 10 of his points in the second half, made a one-handed dunk over Stanley Robinson to provide the Spartans with a 66-56 lead with less than six minutes to play. Two first-half three-pointers by reserve Korie Lucious were valuable as well.

Nobody was more important than Detroit's newest resident Lucas, who used to live at times with his grandmother in the city. He scored 21 points with five assists.

"I thought he controlled the game," Izzo said.

The Spartans also shook the characterization that Big Ten teams can't run by setting the pace against the Huskies, outscoring them, 22-10, on fastbreak points.

"We thought we had depth over them and that's why we wanted to run," Izzo said. "Our league is physical and our league is tough. That helped prepare us as much as anything in this tournament."

The Spartans' defense helped keep UConn's Sequoia lineup from taking over, holding 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet to a quiet 17 points and six rebounds. Travis Walton held Huskies guard A.J. Price to five-for-20 shooting.

Before exiting the court, the Spartans stood looking and pointing up into the stands. Many players said they thought about family members or friends who were struggling in the city's slumping economy.

"I think they kind of forget about the hard times," Walton said. "That's one thing we talked about is bringing hope to the city for a whole weekend. For the moment we were on that court and we won that game, people didn't think about what they were going through outside of this. They were just happy that we won and they can continue to cheer for us on Monday."


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