The most succinct description of what happened in Tulsa on Friday night came from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
“They took it to us,” he said. “And after that first seven or eight minutes, we played some of the best basketball we’ve played not only this year but in a couple of years.”
That was more than enough to put Miami on the mat.
The Hurricanes had a rollicking start, looking at good as they have all season. At that point Izzo referenced, they began a stunning, dizzying descent.
The final result — a 78-58 loss to the Spartans in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — seemed like a given by halftime.
Miami, the No. 8 seed in the East region, ended its season with one-quarter of an outstanding game, and three-quarters of one of its worst games of the year. It was a wild swing in momentum, from all Canes to all Spartans.
From the opening tip — when Miami players excitedly clapped after drawing a foul in the first two seconds of the game — to the 12:16 mark, the Hurricanes did nearly everything right.
UM (21-12) scored the game’s first 10 points and went up 17-5 in the first 6:48, capped by a thunderous slam on the break by freshman Bruce Brown. Off a steal, he cocked his right arm behind his head and threw it down. With 12:16 left in the half, Michigan State had nearly as many turnovers (seven) as points (eight). The Hurricanes scored 10 of their first 17 points off Spartans miscues. The Canes had quick feet in their zone defense, leading to Sparty’s 5-for-17 shooting start.
“We were turning them over, getting out in transition and scoring easy buckets,” Brown said.
Jim Larranaga’s theory on the reversal was twofold.
After the first seven or eight minutes, Larranaga saw the Spartans attacking the zone, so he switched to man-to-man — and “they really carved us.” Freshman stars Nick Ward (19 points) and Miles Bridges (18) barrelled into the paint. The Spartans, who had 18 assists, kept finding the open man.
Larranaga switched back to zone in the second half, but it was too late. He admitted if he could have done it over, he would have stuck with the zone.
The other problem: Miami couldn’t score.
Miami’s ball-screen offense worked so well in the first 10 minutes, but Brown and Ja’Quan Newton and found it increasingly tough to enter the lane. That meant shooters Davon Reed (12 points), D.J. Vasiljevic (2) and Anthony Lawrence Jr. (3) couldn’t get open looks. UM was 4-of-16 from beyond the arc.
Miami lost the rebounding battle 36-23. No Hurricanes player finished with more than three. Kamari Murphy, UM’s leading rebounder who was playing the best ball over the last month, finished with two rebounds and missed all six shots he took.
“I just wasn’t there tonight,” Murphy said. “We’re all human. We’re all going to have those games. Kind of sad it happened the last game of my career.”
The Spartans (20-14), who will play top-seeded Kansas on Sunday, went on a 30-8 run to end the first half and led by as many as 23 in the second half. Their dominance can be explained in many ways, including this: The Hurricanes went up 19-8, and by the time Miami scored its next 19 points, the Spartans had scored 50.
“They killed us on the offensive backboards [17-6 second chance] and points in the paint [40-28],” Reed said.
“They were doing whatever they wanted and we were playing catch-up,” Murphy said.
“We got in one of those stretches we’ve had all year, where we struggle to score,” associate head coach Chris Caputo said.
“I thought we prepared very well,” Larranaga said. “It’s one thing to know what they’re going to do. It’s another thing to stop it.”
They tried. About five minutes into the second half with Miami down 19, Brown brought the ball up the floor, advancing toward referee Rick Crawford. As he dribbled, he repeated “timeout” four times. Crawford continued to stare. Frustrated, Brown then yelled it, which caused Crawford to whip his head around and realize someone was talking.
It was the quietest of endings, after the loudest of starts.