East Regional: Trice's clutch shooting leads Michigan State past Oklahoma

The senior nailed four clutch foul shots as the Spartans fought off an athletic Sooner team.

With 14 seconds left and seventh-seeded Michigan State clinging to a slim two-point lead in Friday’s East Regional semifinal game against third-seeded Oklahoma, Spartans guard Travis Trice took a long look at the rim and walked to the free-throw line. 

With the game on the line, Trice cleared his mind and didn’t ponder the magnitude of the moment. 

Photo: Bryan Cereijo
Michigan State Senior Branden Dawson shoots against Oklahoma during Friday night's tournament game

“To be honest with you, I’m just thinking knock them down,” Trice said. “I just want to win the game. That’s all. Really.” 

It worked. 

Trice made both foul shots for his 23rd and 24th points of the game and capped off a run of nine points in the final 5:04 that propelled Michigan State to a thrilling 62-58 over the Sooners at the Carrier Dome. 

Trice and junior Denzel Valentine combined for 42 points, as the Spartans overcame an early 10-point deficit to come one step closer to reaching the Final Four. 

“As it should be in the NCAA Tournament, your juniors and seniors come through, and they sure did,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Travis was unbelievable all night, and (Valentine), I thought, did a hell of a job because he had to guard Buddy (Hield), and he still had to make shots and get some rebounds.” 

According to Izzo, he and his team were “rocked” during the game’s first ten minutes. Sparked by hot shooting and a rim-rattling dunk by Khadeem Lattin, the Sooners sped out to an 18-8 lead. 

Trice kept Michigan State within striking distance on his own, scoring 10 points in the first half, but his teammates needed a wakeup call. Valentine provided one early in the second half with a few key buckets. 

“In the first half, I felt like it was my first time playing basketball,” Valentine said. “I was like, ‘I’m in the Sweet 16, and we’ve got a chance to go to the Final Four. I’m dreaming. What the heck?’ 

“I just slapped the ground, and I woke up I guess. Guys responded and Travis led us.” 

The Spartans finally took the lead with 9:30 remaining, and Trice made sure they kept it at the end of the game. 

Up 51-49, the senior proceeded to score seven-straight and 9 of 11 points during the closing minutes of the game. That included four conversions at the free-throw line, where Michigan State ranks an abysmal 333rd in the country in shooting percentage. 

But the real dagger was a mid-range jump shot with 2:03 remaining that forced Oklahoma to scramble from behind and intentionally foul during the final minute. 

Meanwhile, the Spartan defense closed scoring lanes and forced the Sooners into shooting only 30.4 percent in the latter frame. Leading scorer Hield finished with 21 points, but couldn’t make a clutch three-point attempt with the seconds ticking away. 

“Second half, Michigan State really did some terrific things defensively,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said. “Got key offensive rebounds late in the game and converted at the line. 

“Just credit Michigan State for doing things better down the stretch than we did.” 

The win puts the Spartans in the fifth round for the second-consecutive season. Last year they fell to eventual champion Connecticut. 

Izzo said this run by his team is one of the most improbable he can remember, especially after losing a pair of seniors to the professional ranks and stumbling out of the starting block in November. 

But after matching Wisconsin blow-for-blow in the Big Ten Tournament and streaking to within one victory of championship weekend, Louisville and the rest of the field should probably take notice. 

“One more victory would be one of the sweeter moments in my career because I think it would teach you that you can do it a lot of different ways,” Izzo said. “I’m just so happy to get the work tonight. I can’t tell you.”

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