Spartans eliminate Virginia again, hand ACC its first NCAA loss

Charlotte, NC ( - Travis Trice scored 13 of his 23 points in the opening 5 1/2 minutes of the game to give Michigan State the lead and the Spartans managed to hold on for a 60-54 victory over Virginia, knocking the Cavaliers out of the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

Branden Dawson added 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks for the Spartans (25-11), who are seeded seventh in the East Region and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last eight years. Michigan State will next play third-seeded Oklahoma on Friday in Syracuse.

Anthony Gill scored 11 points for Virginia and Darion Atkins contributed 10 with 14 rebounds in defeat. The Cavaliers (30-4) became the first ACC team to lose in this year's tournament, as the conference won its first nine games prior to Sunday.

These teams also met last year in the NCAA Tournament, as Michigan State knocked off a top-seeded Virginia squad in the East Region semifinals at Madison Square Garden by a 61-59 decision.

"This is a hard team to prepare for and a very well-coached team," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "I know what we did last year and that probably helped us a little bit, too."

After East top seed Villanova lost to North Carolina State on Saturday, the winner of this matchup appeared to become the front-runner for a trip to the Final Four. With the second-seeded Cavaliers also out, it is the first time the top two seeds in a region have been eliminated prior to the Sweet 16 since Kentucky and Gonzaga were shown early exits in 2004.

In a battle of two of the nation's top defensive teams, it was Michigan State that raced out to a surprising double-digit lead early.

Trice fueled Michigan State's opening 15-4 run with a trio of 3-pointers -- one on a step-back, another on a leaner to beat the shot clock and the third from NBA range. He added a pair of layups on run-outs -- the first after an emphatic block by Dawson and the second after a Virginia turnover to cap the opening surge.

"We knew they were a great team, we had to jump out on them early," said Trice. "Early on our thing was attack from the get-go, not just myself; everybody. We need to try and attack, get a lead and it gives us kind of a cushion."

The Cavaliers never fully recovered.

Virginia missed six straight shots before a Marial Shayok 3-pointer with just under 12 minutes left in the half stemmed Michigan State's momentum. It also ignited an 11-5 sequence that pulled the Cavaliers within 20-15 with just over five minutes left before the intermission.

Michigan State managed just eight points over the final 14 1/2 minutes, but still took a 23-18 edge to the break. Virginia struggled throughout the opening 20 minutes, making just 26.7 percent of its shots.

"When you're having defensive breakdowns and you can't get stops and you're having trouble seeing the ball through the net, then you're going to struggle, so offensively I think that's why we struggled a little bit," said Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon, who had nine points on just 3-of-12 shooting.

The Cavaliers, however, quickly cut their deficit to two early in the second half at 24-22, but Denzel Valentine answered with a 3-pointer to spark a run of eight straight Michigan State points. Dawson had the next five and his free throw at the three-minute mark of the second half made it 32-22.

A three by Bryn Forbes about two minutes later made it a 12-point game, but the Spartans went cold over the next few minutes and made just one free throw while Virginia chipped away. Two free throws by Gill with 11:09 left capped a 9-1 run and pulled the Cavaliers within 38-34.

Dawson's bucket and another jumper by Forbes pushed the lead back to eight and again Virginia clawed to within 45-41 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining. The Cavaliers nearly had two steals during the same Michigan State possession, but the Spartans were awarded a timeout while a ball was loose and then Matt Costello was fouled after a tipped inbound pass.

Costello, with Michigan State just 8-of-17 at the line to that point, calmly converted both ends of a 1-and-1 before Trice did the same after another empty Virginia trip to give the Spartans another eight-point lead with 4:21 left.

Trice buried a long three with the shot clock winding down to push the Michigan State lead back to eight and Gill's tip-in at the other end halted Virginia's nearly 10-minute field goal drought and kept it a six-point game with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.

Forbes continued Michigan State's effective late free throw shooting with two more and the Spartans made enough from the stripe down the stretch to keep Virginia at bay.

The Spartans were 12-for-16 from the line over the final 5:12 of the contest and finished 20-of-33 for the game. Michigan State also took care of the ball in the final 20 minutes, committing just one turnover.

"I think after the (bad) start our defense rallied enough, except for a couple key possessions, but you have to be able to make some plays," said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. "Trice made them for them, Dawson made them. We couldn't get those."

Game Notes

Virginia shot just 29.8 percent overall and made only 2-of-17 from 3-point range ... The Cavaliers tied a school record with 30 wins, matching last year's squad and the 1981-82 team ... Izzo improved to 13-1 in the round of 32 and 20-4 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend ... The Spartans have won all five meetings against Virginia.