Mich. State finishes off Syracuse

Top seed holds Orange scoreless for last 5: 54 in 75-58 Midwest win

Score was tied 58-58

Zone seam exploited

Cleaves' speech helps

Ncaa Tournament

March 24, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Syracuse wouldn't budge out of its zone, so Michigan State finished in one.

The top-seeded Spartans scored the final 17 points, converting on 10 of their last 11 possessions to pull away from fourth-seeded Syracuse, 75-58, in a Midwest Regional semifinal last night.

The partisan crowd of 21,214 at The Palace of Auburn Hills watched Michigan State erase a 14-point second-half deficit and advanced to its second straight regional final. After holding the Orangemen scoreless for the last 5: 54, the Spartans (29-7) are 16-0 this season in their home state and will play last night's Iowa State-UCLA survivor here tomorrow.

"I've been saying this team is special," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "They really showed that in the second half."

With the game tied at 58, the tandem affectionately known as "The Flintstones" stonewalled Syracuse. Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell -- all natives of Flint, Mich. -- scored 11 points in that game-ending 17-0 run as the Orangemen refused to scrap the zone that kept the Spartans in check for most of the game.

Peterson had his NCAA tournament-best performance with 21 points, hitting four of six three-pointers in the second half. Cleaves added all 10 of his points after halftime, including four assists and only one turnover.

"We're not ready to give this up," said Cleaves, the senior point guard who returned for his final season for a chance at an NCAA title. "There was a fear of losing. But we wanted to keep this train rolling."

Syracuse (26-6) out-rebounded, outran and out-hustled the Big Ten champions for the first 21 minutes, and its 2-3 zone played a major factor in Michigan State missing 16 of its first 24 shots. The Orangemen took a 40-26 lead one minute after halftime, when point guard Jason Hart scored off a fast break.

But Michigan State found a soft spot in the zone, as the Orangemen rotated slowly to the left side of the arc when the Spartans moved the ball to the opposite side.

In a matter of seven minutes, Michigan State dissolved the margin to 49-46 by knocking down six of eight three-pointers. The Spartans then grabbed their first lead of the second half at 58-56, when Bell hit a three from that open seam with 6: 13 remaining.

Syracuse tied the game on a Hart layup before falling apart in one of the worst collapses in NCAA tournament history. The Orangemen misfired on their final five shots.

Hart, who had eight assists and seven points at halftime, was limited to one field goal and no assists in the last 16 minutes. Syracuse's best inside threat, Etan Thomas, who was in foul trouble midway in the second half, finished with as many turnovers (three) as baskets.

"The second half was as good a second half we have played," Izzo said.

Said Syracuse's Hart: "They came out in the second half and made some big threes. We held them off as long as we could."

In the first half, Michigan State attacked early, running out to an 11-3 lead as every starter except Cleaves scored.

But the Spartans forgot how to break down the zone as well as knock down an open jumper.

Syracuse pulled away by ending the first half on a 13-5 run for a 34-24 halftime advantage. Michigan State was scoreless for 5: 16, with only one basket in the last eight minutes, to dig itself its largest halftime hole of the season.

During the break, Cleaves yelled at several of his teammates, getting in their face .

It was the same tactic he used last week, when the Spartans rallied from six points down in the second half against Utah. And it worked again.

"We have to get off to better starts," Cleaves said. "I'm getting tired of making these halftime speeches."

Bell, who needed acupuncture on his ailing left knee all week, finally put the Spartans ahead, 58-56, for the first time since early in the game with a three-pointer with less than seven minutes left.

A layup by Hart tied it at 58-all moments later, setting up a final six minutes of joyous mayhem for the sellout crowd of mostly green-and-white clad fans.

"I've watched college basketball for a long time," Syracuse guard Tony Bland said. "I think they're one of the best teams, not just that I saw play this year, but saw play in a long time.

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