- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

DETROIT

The Michigan State basketball team won one for an economically troubled state at Ford Field on Saturday night.

The Spartans fed off the energy of the 72,456 in attendance, the largest Final Four crowd ever, looking not the least bit intimated by the celebrated UConn Huskies.

The Spartans outworked and outgutted the Huskies in forging an 82-73 outcome.

That was Tom Izzo imploring the Spartans to push the ball up the floor, to lengthen the floor on the physically imposing Huskies.

That was a coach abandoning his thick playbook and urging his perimeter players to expose the Huskies in the open court.

That was a coach recognizing his team could not merely slug it out with the Huskies, although slug it out the Michigan State team can.

The Spartans have fashioned their success with rugged defense and rebounding. They have some of Izzo’s football past in them. They are tough, and they don’t back away.

With Jeff Adrien using his strength to have his way with the Spartans, Travis Walton finally let him have it.

Walton delivered a hard foul to Adrien late in the first half. Adrien tried to retaliate on Walton, but his left-handed swing drew air.

It also drew the attention of the players from both teams and the referees. The players on the floor exchanged angry words with one another before the referees restored order.

The Spartans were not going away. Not on this floor. Not in this venue. Not with a decided number in the record crowd cloaked in green and white.

The Spartans pointed to this day since the first day of practice last fall. Their East Lansing campus is 90 miles west of the beleaguered Motor City. They have come to see themselves as a tiny symbol of hope in a state whose fortunes have declined with the automobile industry.

And that is not just talk. Nine of Michigan State’s 15 players are from the state; another three are from Ohio, a state that also is struggling because of the automobile industry.

Walton, a native of Lima, Ohio, said no basketball team can solve the hard financial times in the region.

What it can do, he said, is help people forget, if only momentarily.

“I think the crowd watching us, pulling for us, I think we can help them forget about their financial problems for a weekend,” Walton said.

Izzo said he has seen evidence of the tough economic situation all over the city this weekend.

“We are the blue-collar team, and this is the blue-collar city,” he said. “You see some tough homes, some tough places. I hope we were a ray of sunshine for people, a distraction, anything that might give them a little relief.”

The Spartans started to sense that the game could be theirs after 6-foot-4 Durrell Summers uncorked a nasty dunk in transition that put them up 10 points with 5:49 left.

Summers slammed the ball through the outstretched hand of Stanley Robinson, and the throng erupted.

Magic Johnson, attired in a Michigan State jersey, was all smiles, too, after giving the Spartans a pep talk on Friday.

The Huskies knew the game was slipping away. Their movements became uncertain, their execution erratic. They started rushing shots, started looking pained.

“A memorable game,” Izzo said later. “Detroit has been unbelievable to us. We’ve had some great games here. We think the best is yet to come.”

Izzo said it is a misperception that his team does not like to run.

“We do like to run,” he said. “But playing in the Big Ten, sometimes the opponent dictates how you play.”

Izzo said he is not sure how it all will hit him on Monday, when his team will be in its home state seeking the national championship.

“I’m not sure that [prospect] has registered with me yet,” Izzo said. “We have to handle this right, this chance, this dream, what we have a chance to do.”

So far, so good.

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