SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Travis Trice learned it’s far less nerve-wracking playing with a Final Four berth on the line than it is getting basketball score updates by phone.
Either way, the Michigan State senior guard was left emotionally spent after what proved to be a twice-is-nice-for-the-Thrice-family weekend.
Trice, on Sunday hit two free throws with 10.1 seconds left in overtime to cap a 17-point performance that put the finishing touches on a 76-70 victory over Louisville in the NCAA Tournament East Regional final.
The night before, he had some anxious moments receiving updates by text on how Huber Heights Wayne — the high school team coached by his father and featuring his brother, D’Mitrik — was faring in its first Ohio boys state basketball championship game. The Warriors won 65-57, with D’Mitrik scoring a team-best 19.
“I had to settle for play-by-play texts,” Travis Jr. said. “If anybody’s ever had to do that, it’s stressful.”
More so than facing Louisville?
“At least with this, I feel like I had some sort of control,” he said.
Trice’s on-court control lasted only until the final horn sounded in a game the Spartans (27-11) overcame an eight-point halftime deficit. Trice was unable to keep his emotions in check immediately following a victory that propelled the seventh-seeded upstarts to face South Regional champion Duke at Indianapolis on Saturday.
Trice squatted down at center court and began to sob uncontrollably.
He was joined by his teammates and family members, who made the overnight drive from Columbus, Ohio, following the high school championship.
“He just said he’s not worthy,” Travis Sr. said, standing by his son. “He’s not talking about basketball. He’s talking about his faith.”
Faith, patience and perseverance have been key elements to Trice’s emergence at Michigan State this season.
After three inconsistent and injury-troubled seasons, he finally got an opportunity to prove himself as a starter as part of a new-look backcourt after Gary Harris left for the NBA and Keith Appling graduated last offseason.
Trice is leading the Spartans by averaging 15.3 points and five assists, while having committed just 66 turnovers in 38 games, including 32 starts. His 582 points alone this season are 45 more than he managed in 98 games over his first three years.
Better yet, the Spartans have gone one step further than they did a year ago, when they lost the regional final to eventual champion Connecticut.
That’s impressive for a team that was in jeopardy of missing the tournament altogether in February when the inconsistent Spartans owned a 15-8 record.
“We stuck together. We could have quit. We could have rolled over and died, but we didn’t,” Trice said. “We just kept fighting.”
Trice has played a key role in leading a team that’s riding a 12-3 run, and has now knocked off the East’s second-through-fourth-seeded teams. In four tournament games, he has scored 79 points, added 16 assists and turned the ball over only eight times.
The Spartans are succeeding because of a stifling defense that limited Louisville to hitting 6 of 32 field goals over the final 25 minutes. Trice was responsible for guarding Cardinals guard Terry Rozier, who finished 6 of 23 for 13 points.
The only disappointment for Trice was that he broke down and cried — something he vowed not to do a day earlier.
“I was actually trying to hold it in,” Trice said.
“Honestly,” interjected fellow senior, Branden Dawson. “That was the first time I’ve ever seen Travis cry since I’ve known him.”
Given all that’s happened, who could blame him?