Sports Journalism Blog

By Michael Harley | @mhar3481

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — With six seconds left in the game and Michigan State holding onto a slim and shocking two-point lead over Maryland, Spartan freshman Max Christie stepped to the foul line and calmly knocked down a pair of free throws, sealing a 76-72 victory.

A year after a second-round loss to the Terrapins led Michigan State to miss the quarterfinal round for the first time in the history of the tournament, the seventh-seeded Spartans (21-11) advanced to a meeting with No. 2 Wisconsin at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

With 13:04 to play, Michigan State appeared to be cruising to an easy victory as the Spartans had built a 57-37 lead. But they turned the ball over seven times in the final 2:26, and it took Christie’s clutch free throws and timely rebounds to secure the win.

“I have stood by Max the whole year because he brings it every day and it’s fun to see a guy kind of break through,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “And he did it at three levels, you know, four levels. Shooting was good, his defense was pretty good, his rebounding was off the charts and then the free-throw shooting down the stretch. So he did it at four different levels, and I’m proud of him, happy for him.”

In the first half the Spartans were clicking offensively, shooting 57% from the field and 64% from long range. Christie led the team in scoring with 10 first-half points, burying all three first half triples he attempted. Senior forward Gabe Brown was also productive in the first half scoring seven before the break.

The Spartans started out the half on a 14-3 scoring run, pushing the lead to 20. Maryland was led by point guard and Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell, who scored a game-high 20 points. Donta Scott was also key in the Maryland comeback, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the second half after suffering an ankle injury in the first half.

Following a Michigan State 3-point jumper by freshman guard Jaden Akins put the Spartans up 68-56 with just 3:10 remaining, the Terrapins began ratcheting up their full-court pressure defense. Over the next 2:04, the Spartans committed five turnovers. The score was suddenly 70-68 as Russell was able to complete an old-fashioned 3-point play on an impressive drive to the basket and an acrobatic finish with 1:06 to go.

“That’s been the personality of our group,” said Maryland interim coach Danny Manning. “We have a bunch of guys that compete and battle. We talk about playing from tip to horn, and that’s something that we definitely did today.”

Michigan State turned the ball over two more times in the final 30 seconds, and Maryland had possession of the ball with 15 seconds remaining and trailing 74-72. Russell attempted a difficult step back 3-pointer that clanged off the rim and Christie came up with the tough rebound in traffic. Maryland fouled Christie with just six seconds left, and his clutch free throws allowed Michigan State to hang on.

“It did feel like that last three minutes was an hour and a half, but it wasn’t,” Izzo said. “I could argue about some calls or some things, but I can’t argue about the clock. So whoever the hell you guys got there on the clock, you did a hell of a job.”