ST. LOUIS -- One Spartan was figuratively playing for his best friend. The other was literally. The combination was just enough to get their injured teammate to another Final Four.
The Spartans and their coach know they wouldn't be in this position if not for leading scorer and assist man
"I reminded our guys that you're not playing
The truth is the Spartans may have been bounced in the first round without Lucas' career-high 25 points against New Mexico State. Then, before his injury against the Terrapins, his four points and six assists helped stake the Spartans to a double-digit lead that was just large enough to absorb Maryland's second-half surge and provide the stage for Lucious' buzzer-beating three that sent the Spartans here.
"When Kalin got hurt, it was just ... the locker room, everyone had tears in their eyes. It was like someone had died in there," Allen said. "I couldn't play. Delvon barely could play, but he came up big. Ever since then, every game someone's been stepping up and helping us win, and that's what a championship team [is about]."
Tennessee showed equal championship mettle today. Using the same withering ball pressure led by point guard combo
Part of what kept Michigan State afloat during the game's final stages was Izzo's masterful situational substitutions, using timeouts and free throw situations to work seldom-used junior
"It's always great when you have a guy like Kebler come in," Allen said. "We're playing against Tennessee, no offense, when they see a white guy come in, they're like 'He's a walk-on, he don't play.' Automatically, whoever he's guarding, they'll probably go to him. What they don't know is Kebler is one of the better defenders on our team."
One of the other guys who's suddenly turned into a good defender, and is a main reason why the Spartans will be playing Butler on Saturday in their sixth Final Four appearance in 12 seasons, is Summers.
After having butted heads with Izzo on more than one occasion this season, he was benched in the second half of the Spartans' Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota. After that, the player that Izzo on Saturday called one of the most talented he has coached called a players-only meeting, and has emerged from a subsequent chat with his coach as a refocused, both-ends-of-the-floor force. His tidy 8-for-10 shooting and tie-breaking 3 with 2:47 left were almost overshadowed by his strides on the other end of the floor.
"[Izzo told me to] be more aggressive and it starts on the defensive end," Summers said. "I think throughout the whole tournament my defense has been on a different level than it was in the beginning of the year, and that's just been able to translate to my offense."
He and the rest of the Spartans discovered just enough offense to subdue the Vols and book a second straight trip to the Final Four. With Lucas yelling encouragement and providing the overt leadership that the Spartans have been searching for most of the year, they persevered -- through close games and through injuries that many thought would derail them. It all made their head coach extremely proud.
"We lost our focus today at times, and I think it was mostly because of fatigue," Izzo said. "We were tired. All in all, it's a hell of an accomplishment for some guys that are just sucking it up."