MICHIGAN ST. TOPS DAYTON AS WINSTON "FINISHES THE GAME"
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Atlanta – The Dayton Flyers came into its first Final Four since 1967 on 27 game winning streak.Michigan St. took care of that streak with an impressive late game performance, landing the Spartans in their fourth NCAA title game in school history. MSU beat Dayton Saturday evening, 75-72.
Michigan St. senior Cassius Winston led all scorers with 23 points, adding 8 rebounds. But it was Winston critical baskets and a block of recently crowned Naismith player of the year, Obi Tobbin, in the final 1:30 that shut the door on the Flyers,.
With the Spartans leading 67-66, and the shot clock about to expire, Winston threw down an emphatic dunk to move the lead to 69-66. Winston was fouled on the play by Dayton guard Ibi Watson, and after converting the free throw, MSU led 70-66 with 1:27 to play.
Dayton didn’t give in. Flyers guard Jalen Crutcher drilled a three pointer from the wing to cut the lead back to one. Michigan St., though turned the ball over at the 1:02 mark. A pass by Michigan St. guard Rocket Watts was deflected by Crutcher. Dayton senior Trey Landers fed Toppin with a perfect outlet pass, but Toppin’s attempted dunk at the rim was blocked by Winston.
The Spartans took the ball the other way and after some nifty ball reversal, Winston converted a reverse lay-up at the :47 mark, giving MSU a 73-70 lead.
Dayton coach Anthony Grant took a timeout. Grant said his plan was to get a two for one with a scripted play out of the time out. MSU’s defense, though, thwarted a lob dunk opportunity. Toppin recovered the ball and fed Crutcher for an open 15 footer, but the shot attempt was wide. Spartans forward Xavier Tillman, playing on an injured ankle, got the rebound and was fouled.
Tillman, who finished with 13 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one and Dayton pushed the ball to the rim for an easy basket with 22 seconds left in the game, leaving a 73-72 lead for Michigan St.
After inbounding the ball, Dayton failed to foul MSU until the :09 mark, attempting to avoid fouling Spartans sophomore Gabe Brown, a 94% free throw shooter. Unfortunately for the Flyers, they couldn’t force the ball from Brown’s hands. Brown hit both shots from the line for the final margin.
MSU coach Tom Izzo directed his troops to foul Dayton, up three. Winston fouled Landers with 5 seconds on the clock. The Dayton senior, just a 60% foul shooter, missed the first attempt. Then, after purposefully missing the second attempt, the ball was tipped down court and the clock ran out.
Toppin led Dayton with 20 points and 10 boards. Landers was next with 14 points. MSU’s Xavier Henry backed up Winston 23 point game with 17 of his own.
“We really needed that first one (free throw), Grant emphasized, “If we get that, we have a chance. But we lost the game after the TV timeout. We were in a perfect position, hitting on all cylinders.”
With Dayton leading by 7, the Spartans went on a 9-0 run following the last TV time out and never trailed again. Three pointers by Winston and Henry got MSU to within one, and then Tillman got his own three point play, nailing a 10 footer, and hitting the free throw after being fouled by Toppin.
But as much as key shots helped MSU, Izzo felt the defense led the way. “I really think our defense stepped up,” said Izzo. “They are an explosive offensive team, probably the most dynamic we’ve seen this season. But our guys dug in, and our stud (Wintson) came through. He’s the guy that finishes the game."
Winston explained that this was all part of the plan. “When I came back, this is what I dreamed about. Atlanta. The Final Four. Now here we are. One more to go.”
That “one more” will be Monday against the winner of the Kansas/Villanova contest that is now underway.