COLUMBUS, Ohio — Draymond Green grabbed a mop in the final minute and helped sweep sweat off the floor.
Moments later, Michigan State finally brushed aside Saint Louis.
Green scored 16 points with 13 rebounds and set up Keith Appling’s crucial 3-pointer with 1:34 left, giving the top-seeded Spartans a 65-61 win over Saint Louis on Sunday and a spot in the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State will play No. 4 seed Louisville in the West Regional semifinals Thursday in Phoenix.
Appling added 19 points for the Spartans (29-7), who had to scrap their way past the ninth-seeded Billikens (26-8). Saint Louis controlled the tempo but never got a complete handle on Green, Michigan State’s superb senior, who added six assists.
Kwamain Mitchell scored 13 and Brian Conklin 11 for Saint Louis, back in the tournament for the first time since 2000.
This wasn’t easy for the Spartans, and really, nothing has been this season.
Saint Louis, executing coach Rick Majerus‘ game plan to “muck it up” to perfection, was still within 55-51 when Green drove the left side and rifled a two-handed overhead pass to Appling in front of Michigan State’s bench. The Spartans guard took aim, fired and had his 3-pointer drop, but only after it hit both sides of the rim and backboard before falling.
Appling’s two free throws gave Michigan State a 63-55 lead, but the Billikens weren’t going to let their season end without a fight.
Cody Ellis and Mike McCall Jr. made 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds for Saint Louis and Michigan State’s victory wasn’t assured until Mitchell’s 3 with 3 seconds left was short.
As the horn sounded, Green, who had a triple-double Friday against LIU Brooklyn, raised his arms and hugged teammate Brandon Wood tightly as Majerus congratulated Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in front of the scorer’s table.
There was no excessive celebrating for the Spartans, who have much bigger goals in mind.
Michigan State became the fourth Big Ten team to reach the regional semifinals, joining Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin.
After Michigan State lost its first two games this season to North Carolina and Duke, there were some who wondered if this Spartans squad would recover and live up to its high standards.
There’s no debate anymore. Michigan State can win with any style you choose.