NEW YORK >> Michigan State turned the defensive tables on Virginia and the Spartans advanced to the Elite Eight, putting them back in a place where they have had a lot of success.
Branden Dawson had 24 points and 10 rebounds and the Spartans forced top-seeded Virginia into a terrible shooting performance in a 61-59 victory Friday to advance to the East Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
The fourth-seeded Spartans (29-8) will play Connecticut (29-8) on Sunday with a Final Four berth at stake.
Michigan State overcame a horrible start to the second half and then withstood a late run by the Cavaliers (30-7) to advance to the regional finals for the eighth time since 1999 — all under coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans have a 6-1 record in those games and in 2000 they went on to win it all.
Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon both had 17 points for Virginia.
Adreian Payne had 16 points for Michigan State and his 3-pointer with 1:29 left gave the Spartans the lead for good at 54-51. After a miss by Brogdon, the
6-foot-10 Payne turned point guard, finding Dawson with a line-drive lob pass for a dunk with 52 seconds to go.
Harris hit a 3 with 39 seconds left to bring the Cavaliers within 56-54.
Payne found another way to help the Spartans, making two free throws with 32 seconds left for a 58-54 lead.
Brogdon hit a 3 with 1.1 seconds left to bring Virginia within 60-59. Gary Harris made one of two free throws to make it 61-59 and Virginia’s last attempt was well off the mark.
Michigan State came up with the kind of defensive effort that Virginia is known for. The Spartans held the Cavaliers to 35.1 percent shooting (20-for-57), well off the 45.7 percent they shot during the season and nowhere near the 54.3 percent they shot in the two NCAA Tournament games.
"I think I definitely have to credit their defense," Brogdon said. "They have a lot of good athletes. They contest shots. But we also missed some easy layups inside for sure. But I can’t take away from their defense."
Dawson, who averages 11.0 points per game, has scored in double figures in six straight games and he had a career-high 26 points in the third-round win over Harvard. He missed nine games this season with a broken right hand, an injury he inflicted on himself when he hit a table while watching film.
"It was tough, being out for those nine games," Dawson said. "For me, just making the bad decision that I made, I learned from it a lot. That didn’t stop me from coming in and working hard, and I think that being out for those nine games, I just told myself that my team needs me, and I just need to step up and be a man. And that’s what I did."
"I told him God might have taken his hand when he broke it, but he gave him a jump shot when he returned, because he’s a lot better shooter," Izzo said.
Payne missed seven games with a right foot sprain and Gary Harris and Keith Appling were bothered most of the season with nagging injuries.
"They have experience and they are a physical team. I think they’re playing the best ball," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
UConn 81, Iowa State 76
DeAndre Daniels scored 27 points, 19 in the second half, and the Huskies (29-8) held off the Cyclones (28-8).
Daniels hit his first six shots after halftime, the only Husky to make a field goal for more than 81/2 minutes. His 3-pointer gave seventh-seeded UConn a 49-32 lead.
Iowa State rallied late, pulling within 67-63 with 21/2 minutes remaining. But senior Niels Giffey hit a 3 in the corner for his first points since the game’s opening moments and the Huskies made their free throws in the final minute.
Dustin Hogue scored a career-high 34 points for third-seeded Iowa State, but Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim was 3-for-13 for seven points.
Michigan 73, Tennessee 71
INDIANAPOLIS >> Jordan Morgan scored 15 points and Nik Stauskas had 14, including a key free throw, to help the Wolverines (28-8) hold on for a victory over the Volunteers (24-13).
Michigan led by 15 with 10:55 to go, but committed four turnovers in the final 97 seconds. Tennessee cut the lead to 72-71 and had a chance to take the lead, but Jarnell Stokes was called for an offensive foul with six seconds left.
Stauskas then made one of two free throws and Tennessee’s long desperation heave was off the mark.
Jordan McRae scored 24 to lead the 11th-seeded Vols.