NEW YORK NY- The energy and the noise level were high in Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon as the Michigan State Spartans battled against the Connecticut Huskies in a thrilling Elite Eight matchup in the NCAA basketball tournament. Connecticut won by a score of 60-54 and will travel to North Texas to play Florida. The Huskies will head to their fifth Final Four in hopes of claiming a National Championship.
Both teams had strong support in the stands, with 19,499 spectators were in attendance to cheer on their respective teams. St. Johns University hosted the Elite Eight matchup, which brought fans to the Big Apple from all across the country. The energy was contagious in the city that never sleeps as teams vied for a trip to the final four in Texas. Both teams were met with high-energy support from their fans but Connecticut had a bigger showing in the crowd due to their geographical proximity.
Connecticut started the game up 12-2 on the Spartans. But Michigan State quickly regained composure and crawled back to make it 22-21 after a three-pointer by Gary Harris. Michigan State continued their attack when Denzel Valentine followed hit a three-point shot just before the half to give the Spartans the 25-21 lead at the half. Michigan State went on a 9-0 run before halftime. A large contributor to this offensive outbreak was Michigan State guard, Gary Harris, who added 12 points in the first half.
After halftime, the Spartans continued their offensive attack and led by nine points, to make the score 32-23. Soon after, Connecticut when on a scoring campaign and retook the lead with just over 12 minutes left in the game after going on an 11-0 run. Michigan State fired back with five minutes left in the matchup with two consecutive three-pointers from Denzel Valentine and Gary Harris as they cut the deficit to four points.
The last two minutes of the game truly quantify why the tournament is called “March Madness.” After taking a four-point lead with just under two minutes left, Connecticut extended their lead, 58-51 with 15 seconds the left in game.
Former Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun told TheAlternativePress, “I think that that this team will beat Florida. I don’t want to make any further predictions because we take one game at a time.”
The environment of Madison Square Garden played was a substantial factor that played to the Huskies advantage. Calhoun went on to talk about the home-field atmosphere of Madison Square Garden. “It was a great atmosphere. We didn’t expect any less at Madison Square Garden. We had a lot of great games here. Someone told me that I coached 80 plus games here because people from Connecticut come down from the train to support us."
Connecticut has pulled off a “Cinderella story” this March. The Huskies are just the second team in NCAA history to reach the Final Four as a number seven-seed. The Huskies have won four of their past five Elite Eight games and advance to 4-2 all-time against Michigan State.
Superstar, Shabazz Napier scored 25 points in the “down to the wire” matchup. This is Napier’s 13th time scoring 20-plus points. Another key contribution to Connecticut’s success was their free throw shooting. The Huskies were 21-22 from the line on Sunday.
As Connecticut punches their ticket to the Final Four in North Texas they will face off against the Florida Gators who they defeated by a score of 65-64 on December 2.