INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Izzo joked the day before the game that he didnt think his Spartans had gotten their fair share of wins against Duke. Perhaps this was their time, he said.
Not this year.
Duke played its best basketball of the postseason to beat Michigan State 71-61 and advance to the Elite Eight. Its the Blue Devils' first trip to a regional final since their 2010 national championship.
It was also Mike Krzyzewskis eighth win (against one loss) when facing Michigan State.
Like many of the others, this one didnt come easy.
The Blue Devils played well for the majority of the first half but suffered a few defensive lapses down the stretch to go into the break with a 32-31 lead. When the Spartans came away with points on three of their first four possessions of the second half, Krzyzewski called timeout.
In those opening seconds, Michigan State only led briefly, at 33-32, thanks to three Seth Curry 3s. After Curry hit his sixth threeon seven attemptsthe 30-second time out came. Assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski jumped off the bench, pumping his fists. Curry got a few congratulatory taps on his head before the huddle tightened.
And then Krzyzewski gave his team a verbal tongue-lashing. He slammed down his stool. Then Wojciechowski yelled. Then Jeff Capel. Then Chris Collins. Then Krzyzewski mimicked his teams lackluster effort and did his lazy-dance out of the huddle. Then Capel got up in Cook's face as the team went back on the floor.
Seth was scoring on every possession. Its almost like we felt we could relax on defense, Krzyzewski said. When you get a guy hot like that and you can get a couple of defensive stops with it, then youre going to get separation. And we werent doing that.
It was basically to remind them that this kid is not going to be able to do this the whole second half. But while he is, lets pick up the intensity on the defensive end.
Duke responded with five straight stops, including a five second call and two offensive fouls.
Counting the Curry 3 before the timeout, Duke went on a 9-0 run with Curry and Mason Plumlee doing all the scoring. The lead was 47-38 at that point.
Gary Harris broke that drought with a drive to cut the lead to 47-43 with just under 12 minutes remaining. But that field goal was the only one in a nearly 15-minute span that wasnt broken until there were fewer than four minutes remaining in the game.
Dukes other two seniors, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, came up with key baskets when the Spartans threatened in the second. Plumlee collected a missed Rasheed Sulaimon dunk and put it back to extend Dukes lead to 51-45. A few minutes later, Kelly converted a traditional 3-point play to give the Blue Devils a 54-46 lead.
Two transition lay-ups from Sulaimon gave Duke their first and second double-digit leads with around 8:30 left on the clock. The Spartans were never able to seriously threaten down the stretch.
Michigan State entered the game with several advantages: a size and physical edge in the frontcourt and an athletic, driving guard in Gary Harris. Duke was able to neutralize both.
The game plan was the force Michigan States post players, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, toward the baseline and then bring help. It was effective, as the duo shot a combined 6-of-20 from the field.
Michigan State had just one more defensive rebound than Duke at the break (a 16-15 edge), and both teams had three offensive boards and two second-chance points apiece. Moreover, Duke was able to contend down low without fouling, a sharp contrast from the last time out against Creighton.
I feel like if a teams game plan with us is to just be tough and physical with us, its not going to work, Plumlee said.
Harris, the Big 10 freshman of the year, was 2-of-11 from the field for four points, as Curry, with help from Sulaimon, was able to contain him. And Harris struggled mightily on Curry. The Spartans never found an answer for him, as he led all scorers with 29 points.
And even when he stopped hitting on every possession, the Blue Devils came up with their stops. They just needed a reminder to do so.
Luke DeCock contributed to this report
Seth Curry made 4 of 9 shots and scored 14 points in the first half, but one of his misses was highly controversial on the Duke bench.
Midway through the period, Curry let a jumper go from the paint. The ball was close to heading down - or already heading down, depending on your opinion - and Adreian Payne swatted it away.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski jumped off his stool and spread his arms in disbelief. He was in the referees' huddle during the next stoppage of play.
At the 3-minute, 35-second mark of the first half, Mason Plumlee was called for a foul on Payne's shot attempt, as his forearm made contact with the Spartans' big man while he was shooting.
It was the fourth foul on the Blue Devils - half the total of Michigan State.
The Spartans slapped the floor on defense a few times in the first half. All of them came while they were trailing.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley