COLUMBUS, Ohio – After the buzzer sounded and the cheers died, there was ... nothing.
Top-seeded Michigan State didn't cut down any nets and the Spartans didn't carry anyone around on their shoulders after a 65-61 victory over resilient Saint Louis in a third-round West Regional.
Was it because they already had celebrated winning a share of the Big Ten title, and capturing the conference tournament title? Or was it because they were just too exhausted?
"I knew it would be a physical war," coach Tom Izzo said after his team finally locked up a spot opposite No. 4 seed Louisville in the West Regional semifinals Thursday in Phoenix. "We play in the Big Ten — and I thought it was a physical game."
The early game was just as intense.
Lorenzo Brown hit three free throws in the final 10.6 seconds and North Carolina State returned to the round of 16 for the first time in seven years with a 66-63 upset of third-seeded Georgetown.
"You never know what to expect in this tournament," Brown said, sounding far more sage than a sophomore should. "A lot of great teams went down a couple of days ago. And we're just out here playing our best."
The Wolfpack (24-12) will play Kansas on Friday in St. Louis.
In the nightcap — which ended just before severe storms hit the Columbus area — Michigan State (29-7) and Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green had just enough to hold off the Billikens coached by Rick Majerus.
After recording a triple-double in the second round, Green came back with 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
Following his lead, the Spartans considered Sunday's game as just another step along the way to the Final Four. In other words, no celebrating because the job's not finished.
"Even when I was a young kid I was a sore loser," Green said. "I was the type of kid where if I lost, I wasn't getting off the court."
Keith Appling added 19 points for the Spartans, including a critical 3-pointer with 1:34 left.
The Billikens (26-8) trailed just 55-51 when Green drove the lane and, as he was falling out of bounds, threw a hard, two-handed pass into the right corner to Appling. His shot seemed to touch all of the rim before bouncing through.
"The defense collapsed and I was wide open," Appling said.
Saint Louis made one last run, with Cody Ellis and Mike McCall Jr. hitting 3-pointers late, but the Spartans had just enough to win.
"Hey, we didn't pretend to be God's gift to basketball," Izzo said. "We know we're a working man's group. And we had to work today."
Majerus, bringing a team to the NCAA tournament for the 12th time, came away impressed with Michigan State's skill, but even more its toughness.
"The last time I played them I said this: They should win the national championship," he said. "They're extraordinarily well-coached. They have great kids. They compete. They do it the right way. And the one kid is a great, great collegiate player, Green."
In the first game, North Carolina State took a giant step toward relevance in college basketball.
The Wolfpack won national championships in 1974 with David Thompson and in 1983 when Jim Valvano was the coach, but haven't been among the elite teams in the country for quite a while.
But they believe that's about to change.
"We always talk about how we have such a great history at NC State," said Mark Gottfried, in his first year coaching the Wolfpack. "But it's also time to build some new history."
A lowly 11th seed coming in, they had to survive a furious comeback by the Hoyas (24-9).
C.J. Williams, Scott Wood and C.J. Leslie each had 14 points, and Brown added 12 for the Wolfpack, who overcame an eight-point deficit with a 12-0 run late in the half.
The Hoyas (24-9), riding the shooting of Hollis Thompson, who had 23 points, drew to 63-61 before freshman Otto Porter missed a 15-foot jumper under pressure with 14 seconds left.
Brown, a 74 percent shooter at the line, made two foul shots with 10.6 seconds left for a 65-61 lead. Jason Clark, who finished with 10 points, then went the length of the court for a layup before Brown was fouled again with 4.6 seconds left. He hit the first but missed the second, and the Hoyas raced down court for a potential tying 3.
They got a great look, with Clark, defended by Williams, stopping and getting off a rushed shot.
"We pushed the ball up the court, tried to get a last shot," Clark said, his eyes brimming with tears. "I felt like it had a chance, but it didn't."
Unlike the restrained approach Michigan State took, there was a wild celebration at the end by the Wolfpack.
Three teammates hefted Brown to their shoulders and carried him across the floor, while guard Alex Johnson popped his jersey and yelled to the roaring North Carolina State faithful, "We back baby! We're going to the Sweet 16!"
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap