WASHINGTON — Freshmen Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown had career nights, lifting No. 2 Michigan State to an 80-63 victory over No. 3 LSU in the East Region semifinals of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
Henry and Brown scored career highs with Henry pouring in 20 and Brown scoring 15 as the Spartans (31-6) advanced to Sunday’s regional final, where they will play No. 1 Duke. The Blue Devils topped No. 4 Virginia Tech 75-73 later Friday.
“It was one of those nights where I thought the basket was huge,” Henry said. “I’m glad that it was that way tonight. Just my teammates looking out for me and getting me the ball in certain positions. And Coach put me in great spots to score.”
Cassius Winston scored 17 and handed out eight assists for Michigan State while Xavier Tillman chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds. Kenny Goins tallied six points and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Winston said of Henry and Brown, “They were huge tonight. In a lot of ways, they won the game. They were confident. They trusted in their abilities. They took their shots that they’re supposed to, and they just stepped up in a big way.”
Tremont Waters scored 23 for LSU (28-7), including a bucket that pulled the Tigers within 45-41 with 16:44 to play. But Michigan State responded with an 11-0 run, which began with Brown’s triple and 3-pointers from Henry and Goins.
“I thought we had a great game plan,” LSU interim coach Tony Benford said. “We wanted to protect the paint and try to get the ball in the paint. But they had some guys that stepped up. We wanted to contain Cassius. But you’ve got to give guys credit. Brown and Henry made shots.
“At the end of the day, they flipped it on us on the glass. We knew we had to protect the backboard. We had to rebound, protect our end, and whoever won the rebound battle I feel like was going to win the game. And it played out that way.”
Michigan State’s 3-point barrage blew open what was a four-point game, gave the Spartans a 56-41 lead with 14:41 to play and forced an LSU timeout. The Spartans kept it coming, eventually pushing the lead to 66-48 before LSU put together its final surge.
Two straight triples from Waters got things going and four points from Reid pulled the Tigers within 70-60 with a little more than four minutes to play. But Matt McQuaid scored six points to help the Spartans put the game away.
Kavell Bigby-Williams added 11 points for the Tigers while Naz Reid was good for 10 points and nine rebounds.
“You gotta give kudos to them,” Waters said of the Spartans. “They’re a great 3-point shooting team the way they move the ball and everything and they were able to make big-time shots.”
It was all Michigan State in the first half as the Spartans scored the first eight points of the game, forcing LSU to take a timeout less than two minutes into the game after Henry and Winston hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
The timeout did little to slow the Spartans, who made six of their first nine shots and went up 22-11 on a triple from Winston. LSU started to get back into it, pulling within 25-17 with 9:28 left in the first half before Michigan State started to take control once again.
A 15-6 surge for the Spartans put them ahead, 40-23, with 2:10 to play in the half after Nick Ward scored on a jump-hook. But the Tigers built some momentum heading into the locker room as they scored the final five points of the half, including a 3-pointer from Waters to cut Michigan State’s lead to 40-28 at the break.
LSU came storming out of the locker room, scoring the first eight points for a 13-0 run that began late in the first half.
—Field Level Media