Trice as nice: Senior leads Michigan State to Final Four

The Michigan State senior scored 17 points to continue what his head coach called a "most improbable" tournament run to the Final Four.

Travis Trice wasn't supposed to have this moment.

He wasn't a sought-after recruit in high school, only gracing the wish list of Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo amid the courting of current teammate Branden Dawson.

Then he had a brain infection... and two concussions... and a number of other dings and dents once he arrived in East Lansing.

Photo: Bryan Cereijo
Marvin Clark Jr. (No. 0) rises to grab a key rebound against Louisville on Sunday.

But the kid who was too small and too fragile to lead a team stood on the Carrier Dome court Sunday, sobbing in the arms of his parents. Yet another magic moment produced by the craziness of March basketball.

Trice's seventh-seeded Spartans overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to beat Louisville in overtime, 76-70, and cap off a mesmerizing run through the East Region of the NCAA Tournament field. They will face one-seed Duke in the national semifinals Saturday in Indianapolis to mark their first trip to the Final Four since 2010.

At the center of it was Trice, whose 41 points this weekend helped him earn East Region Most Outstanding Player honors.

"(Teammate) 'Tum Tum' (Nairn) told me yesterday and today, 'You're going to cry after the game,'' Trice said. "I'm like, 'No, I'm not.'

"Just all the summers, all the hard work, being so close last year, being like four minutes away, and not getting it, it makes it worthwhile."

The senior started off hot, draining a pair of triples and scoring 10 points in the first half, but it wasn't enough to stop Louisville from pulling ahead.

Cardinals big Montrezl Harrell picked up where he left off in Friday's Sweet 16 game against N.C. State by attacking the rim for a pair of dunks in transition en route to a quick 12 points in the first frame. Wayne Blackshear added a pair of triples down the stretch to help the Cards surge into the locker room.

But Michigan State's halfcourt defense played lights out in the latter frame, limiting Louisville to only five field goals and setting up a dramatic final five seconds of regulation.

With the Spartans up one, Mangok Mathiang walked to the free-throw line with a chance to take the lead. His first free throw defied the laws of physics by bouncing four feet into the air and through the tin, but the second rimmed off and forced overtime.

"Sometimes, it can be a cruel game," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. "I was positive we were going to win it when the first free throw went in because it shouldn't have gone in. We're going to win this thing.

"One team could really shoot it, and the other team struggled. That's the bottom line."

Michigan State reserve Bryn Forbes opened the extra session with a three, one of his four on the afternoon. Dawson would later seal the win with a second-chance basket with 36 seconds remaining.

Meanwhile, Louisville stayed ice-cold and shot one-for-seven in overtime.

Blackshear poured in 28 points for the Cardinals despite getting whacked in the nose during the second half and vomiting profusely during the intermission after taking too much asthma medicine.

Appropriately enough, Trice bookended the game with a pair of free throws that hit nothing but nylon in the closing seconds.

The senior had a rough start to 2014-15, at one point volunteering to come off the bench to spark the Spartan rotation. But much like Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier in recent seasons, Trice is peaking at the right time and showed no fear in pulling up for the big shot this weekend.

"There came a point in the year where it was just us, just the people in our locker room and our program," Trice said. "We stuck together. We could have quit. We could have rolled over and died, but we didn't."

They will now be rewarded with a trip to Indy and a chance to win the second national championship in the Tom Izzo era. To do it, they will have to go through a trio of number-one seeds, including heavy favorite Kentucky.

But the way Trice and his team have kept fighting, there's no reason the magic can't continue.

"You could just tell listening to them that it meant the world to them to get here," Izzo said. "They worked for it. They earned it, and we're going."

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