In the second semi-final game at U.S. Bank Stadium, perennial-power Michigan State, playing in its eighth Final Four in 21 seasons under head coach Tom Izzo, took on the Texas Tech program making its debut in the event.
On Saturday night, Texas Tech (31-6, 14-4 Big 12) demonstrated that experience meant little, knocking off Michigan State (32-7, 16-4 Big Ten) 61-51.
"The very first thing I told the guys right when we knew Michigan State was going to be the team we were playing was, 'Look we're not going to out-tough Michigan Sate,'" said Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard. "That's not going to happen, we're going to equal their toughness. The thing I'm most proud of is for 40 minutes, we ran shot for shots with one of the all-time greats in college basketball."
To begin the game, Texas Tech slowed down the usually potent Spartans offense. The Red Raiders defense is what got them to Minneapolis — rated by KenPom as the most efficient in the nation. They limited Michigan State to just 21 points on a dismal 30.4 percent shooting in the first half.
Michigan State junior Cassius Winston and senior Matt McQuaid each had nine points before halftime, while the rest of the team managed just three. However, Texas Tech's offense didn't produce enough scoring to capitalize on the defense's strong play. At the intermission, the Red Raiders held just a two-point advantage as the teams combined for just seven points in the last 7:30 of the half.
"It's just what we do every day," said Texas Tech redshirt senior Norense Odiase of his teams' defense. "Our toughness, our grit, our competitive fight every 40 minutes [shows on] every possession."
It took until midway through the second half, but Texas Tech finally began to extend its lead. Thanks to a five-minute stretch that saw the team go on a 16-7 run, the Red Raiders built their largest lead of the game: a 12-point 50-38 advantage.
During the run, redshirt senior Matt Mooney scored 11 points, hitting three 3-pointers. Mooney, a transfer from South Dakota, starred for Texas Tech Saturday night, scoring 22 points on 8-16 shooting. For him, shooting in a large arena like U.S. Bank Stadium was a different experience, but it didn't hinder his game.
"It's different for sure," Mooney said. "We got here a couple days early, [we had] to get used to it. We had a great shoot-around today, and the basket just got big for me."
Late in the game, Michigan State used an 8-0 run to cut the Red Raiders' lead to one point with under three minutes left. From that point, Texas Tech scored the last nine points of the game, including a clutch 3-pointer from sophomore Jarrett Culver with 58 seconds left that sealed the victory.
The defeat means the Big Ten's drought of winning a national title in men's basketball has now reached 19 years. Izzo, who has reached seven Final Fours since his team won the championship in 2000, said despite coming up empty once again, he's confident a Big Ten team will soon be back on top.
"I put a lot more into how the season went," said Izzo when asked of where the conference ranks among others in college basketball. "We have enough teams knocking on the door, we're going to find a way to win [a championship]."
Meanwhile, Texas Tech advances to face another program seeking its first men's basketball title. The Red Raiders will play Virginia on Monday night to determine a champion.