CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Travis Trice received a text message Sunday from Golden State Warriors forward and former Michigan State player Draymond Green that read: “Don’t let this be your last game.”
The Spartans’ senior guard texted back, “It won’t.”
Trice made sure of that Sunday, scoring 23 points and helping Michigan State knock second-seeded Virginia out of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, 60-54.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Trice scored 13 of his team’s first 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including three 3-pointers, to help the Spartans build a 15-4 lead.
Branden Dawson added 15 points and nine rebounds for the seventh-seeded Spartans, who advanced to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last eight seasons under coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans will play Oklahoma in Syracuse, New York, on Friday.
“Our thing was attack from the get go and get a lead,” said Trice, in his first full season as a starter after three years as a reserve.
“Big-time players make big-time plays (and) that’s what Travis did,” said Dawson, who started playing with Trice in AAU ball.
With top seed Villanova having lost Saturday, it is the first time a No. 1 and 2 seed from the same region didn’t advance to the Sweet 16 since Kentucky and Gonzaga in 2004.
The Cavaliers (30-4), the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to lose after a 9-0 start in the tournament, were led by Anthony Gill’s 11 points and Darion Atkins’ 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Izzo made some defensive tweaks to his game plan after Michigan State’s first-round win over Georgia, and the Spartans (25-11) stole a page from last year’s regional semifinal win by limiting the Cavaliers to 29.8 percent shooting. Virginia finished 2 of 17 from 3-point range.
Izzo said the Spartans “changed what we do” defensively in a day-and-a-half.
Instead of having his guards jump to the ball and give help, Izzo relied more on his big men in the middle to stay disciplined — and not cheat or go for steals — and guard against Virginia’s flare screens.
“We’re just not as talented as we’ve been so we are always cheating to find a way to get an edge,” Izzo said. “Coaches can tell you what to do, but when muscle memory tells you to do it another way … your focus has to be incredible. And that was incredible focus if you asked me.”
Last year, the Spartans upset the top-seeded Cavaliers in the regional semifinal by holding Virginia to 35.1 percent shooting.
While Trice was beating them up and down the court and making 3s, the Cavaliers opened the game 2 of 10 from the field and could never get on track offensively.
“They are so good defensively that any start like that is costly,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said.
The Cavaliers finished the first half shooting just 26.7 percent (8 of 30) from the field.
Virginia cut the lead to two to start the second half behind two quick baskets by Justin Anderson. But the Spartans countered with a 12-2 run led by Dawson, who had seven points during the stretch, including a three-point play off a fast-break dunk.
Down six points, Atkins picked up his fourth foul with 8:36 left on what replays showed to be a clean block on Gavin Schilling and was forced to go to the bench, which served to be a momentum swing.
Virginia would battle back to within five after Atkins returned to the game, but Trice knocked down a clutch 28-footer with 1 second left on the shot clock to put the Spartans up 52-44 with 3 minutes to play.
“That was a dagger 3,” Bennett said. “It was an NBA 3. … When you have a guy like Trice making those shots down the stretch that is what makes you advance in this tournament.”
It wasn’t exactly the play Izzo wanted, but he said sometimes good players improvise.
“It was one of those, ‘Oh no… Nice shot,’ type of deals,’ Izzo said.
Michigan State: Won despite shooting 20 of 33 from the free throw line. … Led for more than 38 minutes of the game.
Virginia: Outrebounded Michigan State 39-32. … Finished 18 of 26 from the free throw line. … London Perrantes and Anderson were a combined 4 of 17 from the field.
Virginia finished with its second straight 30-win season, a school record. But the Cavaliers fell earlier than expected once again in the NCAA Tournament despite spending most of the season ranked in the top five in the country.
“It just leaves that feeling that you wish you could have taken it further,” Bennett said. “But it doesn’t take away when all the dust settles what was accomplished, and we give thanks for that. But we can certainly learn from what took place.”
Michigan State: Will advance to the Sweet 16 to play Oklahoma on Friday in Syracuse, New York.
Virginia: Season over.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.