- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

INDIANAPOLIS The game is easy if you hit shots, as Michigan State demonstrated against Florida on Monday night at the RCA Dome.
If you hit 11-of-22 3-point attempts, then it becomes clear to everyone.
Your senior leadership was the deciding factor. Your point guard's fortitude was important, too, and let's not forget your coach, so smart, and the contributions of your bench. And one other thing: You beat the opposition's fullcourt press and, in fact, used it to create offense, especially in the first half.
You hit shots, and so it was as simple as Michigan State 89, Florida 76, and the national championship was yours to hold and celebrate.
It was your night. The stars were properly aligned, the karma excellent, the biorhythms in proper working order. You didn't think too much until it was over. Then you pumped your fist into the air.
Your team came into the game shooting .374 from the 3-point line on the season. Your point guard, Mateen Cleaves, was in a shooting slump, having made only nine of 31 field goal attempts in his last three games.
So Cleaves goes 3-for-3 from the 3-point line in the first half. He starts to rip the heart out of the Gators, planting the first seeds of doubt in them.
You ignore the statistical trends. You forget your ugly semifinal game against Wisconsin. You forget you are in a dome and that domes are usually unkind to shooters.
You hit shots. You don't explain it later, not really. You mention the zone. You know the zone. To a shooter, the zone is a warm, reassuring place, where the basket looks as large as the ocean and, as you know, anyone can throw the ball into the ocean.
You hit shots even while there are hints of trouble around you.
Your Morris Peterson was missing in the first 20 minutes. He does that a lot, taking off in the first half.
"I don't know what it is," Peterson said. "I think I've got to keep getting chewed out at halftime, so I can play better in the second half."
Coach Tom Izzo is paid a considerable sum of money to provide Peterson with an earful at halftime. That is what coaches do. They yell. They traffick in fear, yours and theirs.
Peterson picked up his second and third fouls early in the second half and went to the bench. Then Cleaves sprained his right ankle and limped to the locker room.
"You know what?" Izzo told his players at this point. "We've got a war on our hands. Somebody's got to step up."
Mike Chappell, a transfer from Duke, came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer and a layup. Then A.J. Granger, quietly efficient all night, hit a 3-pointer to answer another surge by the Gators.
"We called [Granger] the X-factor," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We could not allow him to step outside and make 3-pointers, and that's what he did."
Peterson and Cleaves returned to the game with 11:51 left, the Spartans up by eight points, the Gators teetering.
Peterson, first missing, then in foul trouble, scored 15 of his team's last 31 points to finish with a team-high 21 points.
"Why he doesn't do that in the first half I don't know," Izzo said.
Cleaves, limited because of the ankle sprain, led the team with his head instead of his body after returning to the game.
"The heart of a lion," Izzo said. "He gave up a lot of money to be back here."
It was funny Izzo should mention the NBA. Magic Johnson was in the house to bless Michigan State's first national championship since he was an undergraduate in 1979. Steve Smith was there, too.
"To have those guys supporting you, that means something special," Peterson said.
You hit shots and everything else falls into place. Your confidence soars, while theirs plummets. You make 60 percent of your shots and 50 percent of your 3-pointers. The 11 3-pointers hurt the most.
"We lost the game because of what they did behind the 3-point line," Donovan said.
Basketball is like that sometimes.
You hit shots and the rest of it becomes incidental.

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