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Giddy Spartans Survive and Advance to the Elite Eight After 62-58 Win Over Oklahoma

Giddy Spartans Survive and Advance to the Elite Eight After 62-58 Win Over Oklahoma

Carrier Dome

Syracuse, NY

Tom Izzo and the word GIDDY are not one in the same. In my many years of covering him as a coach, and knowing him on a personal level as well, I can’t say I ever could have used the words connected. Well, that all changed here in the Carrier Dome last night as the Spartans head man couldn’t contain his excitement.

“Get to work another day. Can't tell you how excited that makes me. That's what I asked of these guys. First, I thought each one of these guys did some key things. Travis was unbelievable all night, and Zell, I thought, did a hell of a job because he had to guard Buddy, and he still had to make shots and get some rebounds. Branden struggled the first half, except he had nine boards. Second half, he hit three big buckets, all very important ones. As it should be in the NCAA Tournament, your juniors and seniors come through, and they sure did. So I'm just tickled to death to still be playing. We're going to play a very good team in Louisville. I was telling Branden that. His freshman year is when he blew his knee in the last game of the year. We met them in the Sweet 16, and we were missing an athlete. He's our best athlete. So happy we got him, and yet I know we'll have our hands full tomorrow.”

Izzo wasn’t the only on emotional. Junior star Denzel Valentine had to go deep in his well of emotion to snap out of a first half funk that fueled the Spartans after being down as many as ten. Valentine said, “I was talking to Travis in the hallway, the first half, I felt like it was my first time playing basketball. But I just kind of snapped out of it, and I was like I'm in the Sweet 16, and we've got a chance to go to the Final Four. I'm dreaming, what the heck? I just slapped the ground, and I woke up, I guess. Guys responded, and Travis led us.”

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Trice didn’t agree with Valentine that he was the one to lead the Spartans back. Although the senior had 24 points, like this team has done all year he deflected the praise back to a teammate. “I think it just speaks to how great of a player Denzel is. The stakes were high, and if he misses that shot, we might not be here right now. We're probably on our way home. So you've got to give Denzel a lot of credit. And just him responding. Like you said, early in the first half, he was kind of struggling. Some players might give up, but he's the type of player where he bounces back.”

Oklahoma head coach as usual was gracious after the game. Praising the Spartans will to win. “credit Michigan State for doing what they needed to do down the stretch. I thought defensively guys fought their tails off all night. Second half, Michigan State really did some terrific things defensively. Got key offensive rebounds late in the ballgame and converted at the line.”

Kruger’s praise continued for Trice, Valentine and Dawson. The veteran head coach had great respect for the emotion and effort they brought. “They're really good players. They're playing with a lot of confidence, playing well. Obviously, they made shots in the second half that were critical to the ballgame. Dawson made a couple. Trice made a couple, and their big guys got some boards back that hurt us as well. Yeah, those guys are good players, and they were the key to the ballgame.”

The only time Kruger could have been described as surely was in defense of Izzo. When a reporter asked him to explain why Izzo was always great in March he wasn’t buying that. “I think Tom's great all year long. His clubs always play well. He's got his team playing well right now. Typically, his clubs get better throughout the year. When you do that, you're probably going to be playing your best in March, and his club does that a lot.”

How much has Izzo changed? Well he says he might be getting soft. “It's a weird day today. I called a couple of my captains in there in the morning when we had breakfast, and I said, what are we going to do today? What do you want to do? Believe it or not, I said, what about going to a movie? Show you how soft I'm getting. I probably caused the problems in the first half. Instead of grinding it in some film, we went to a damn movie. We did it just to try to break up the day. But last week, we played the early game. You've got a lot of time. Last year we did not do a very good job. We got back at 1:30, 2:00 in the morning last year, and I thought I did a terrible job. So I'm re-evaluating. We looked at some things we want to do, maybe get them a little more rest and us a little more work. Because this is a tough team to prepare for, too, with their press and their zone and all the stuff they do that we don't get to see a lot of. We'll get some time. We've just got to be a little smarter in how we handle it. I didn't think I did a very good job. This is tough on a player. I understand why. I tell them, they can sleep all summer. Don't worry about that.”

So does he have any more things planned today after having his guys go see ">Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s new movie Get Hard? “I had to find something that was a little light. I didn't want anything too deep. That wasn't too deep. I kept seeing the commercials. Will Ferrell had visited our place a few years ago. Last year I sat with Kevin Hart at the UConn game. So I said, this could be a good omen. So they went. I said, if we lose, we'll never do it again. If we win, hell, we might go to the movies tomorrow. I don't know.”