It's final: Mich. State meets Fla.

Mich. State's defense brings Wisconsin to a standstill, 53-41

Peterson `was difference'

Game-high 20 points put Spartans on verge of first title since 1979

April 02, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan State and Wisconsin may both reside in the Big Ten, but Morris Peterson proved why the Spartans are a little out of the Badgers' league.

Michigan State's soft-spoken leading scorer amplified his game in the second half, scoring 13 points in an 18-5 run to open the period as the Spartans wrestled out a 53-41 victory over Wisconsin last night.

Peterson finished with 20 points and revved up the sellout RCA Dome crowd of 43,116 by carrying Michigan State (31-7) to its first national championship game since 1979 and its fourth win over Wisconsin this season. The lone surviving top seed advanced to meet the Florida Gators tomorrow night.

On the night before most of the country will set its clocks ahead, Wisconsin felt like winding them back last night. The offensively challenged Badgers (22-14) scored the fewest points in a semifinal game in the shot-clock era and had one player hit more than two baskets.

The Spartans had to fight through a stingy Wisconsin defense and shake off their worst offensive first half of the season. It took only one adjustment: get the ball to The Man, aka Peterson.

With State holding a 19-17 lead entering the second half, Peterson drained five of seven shots in the first 11 1/2 minutes after the break. The smooth left-handed gunner notched eight consecutive points during the stretch that staked the Spartans to a 37-22 margin with 8: 43 remaining.

Wisconsin, which had two field goals at that point in the half, never reduced the deficit below double figures the rest of the way.

"We all knew what we had to do in the second half," point guard Mateen Cleaves said. "Just give Pete the ball and get out of his way."

Said Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett: "[Peterson] got going in the second half, and he was the difference."

Peterson, who missed four of his first six shots, assumed control in the second half, reminiscent of his game-altering scoring binges last week against Syracuse and Iowa State. But he accomplished it in a different manner.

Rather than relying on this perimeter game, Peterson posted up the smaller Kirk Penney and defensive specialist Mike Kelley. He went to work, spinning around them to record half of his 16 second-half points in the paint. Still, he capped the game-breaking 16-5 spurt by corralling a loose ball at the top of key and firing in a three-pointer without hesitation.

Gliding back down court, Peterson glanced over at his parents, raised his index finger to the air and looked up with a smile. His grandmother died last week and Peterson attended her funeral Thursday.

In that moment, the usually stone-faced Peterson felt his emotions come full circle.

"I just wanted to try to make an extra effort to let her know that I feel her presence," Peterson said. "The times I started to feel tired tonight, I thought of her."

Besides not containing Peterson, Wisconsin fell short of its defensive goals. The nation's fourth-best scoring defense made Michigan State find other ways to attack, holding the Spartans to four assists and 34.8 percent shooting.

Michigan State, however, one-upped the Badgers defensively.

The Spartans handcuffed Wisconsin's top two offensive players, Mark Vershaw and Jon Bryant, who combined to shoot 3-for-16. They only gave the Badgers two offensive rebounds, forcing Wisconsin to beat them with its inconsistent jump shot.

"Wisconsin prides itself on defense and how it got them here," said State guard Charlie Bell, who marked Bryant for most of the game. "But I think we showed who had the better defense."

And showed them how to rebound.

Yet Michigan State didn't have to flex its muscles on the boards. The Spartans assumed a 42-20 rebounding edge -- the second-largest margin in NCAA semifinal history -- with technique rather than elbows.

"We spent some time, talking about spinning off them and doing a little bit more aggressive athletic movement," said State coach Tom Izzo, who is headed to his first national championship game. "If you are physical with Wisconsin, it really works in their favor.

Said Bennett: "We were outplayed badly, probably didn't look good, but we played hard the entire game. And I like this team because of their vulnerability."

In the first half, Michigan State used its strengths to pull ahead, 17-8, with 10: 01 left before halftime. The Spartans crashed the offensive boards, created open shots with their quickness and took Wisconsin out of its offensive sets with defensive pressure.

Causing four turnovers and grabbing three offensive rebounds in the first eight minutes, Michigan State opened up some easy opportunities, converting six of 13 shots.

After Cleaves jumped in the passing lane to steal Mark Vershaw's pass, the Spartans point guard had an uncontested layup and put State ahead 16-8 with 11: 39 left in the first half. Andre Hutson, who was fouled after an offensive rebound, then hit one of two free throws to increase the gap to 17-8.

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