NEW YORK (AP) — Branden Dawson had 24 points and 10 rebounds and Michigan State beat top-seeded Virginia 61-59 on Friday night to advance to East Regional final.
The fourth-seeded Spartans (29-8) will play Connecticut (29-8) on Sunday with a Final Four berth at stake. The seventh-seeded Huskies beat third-seeded Iowa State 81-76 earlier Friday.
Michigan State overcame a horrible start to the second half and then withstood a late run by the Cavaliers (30-7) to advance to the regional finals for the eighth time since 1999 – all under coach Tom Izzo.
Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogden both had 17 points for Virginia, which became the second No. 1 seed to be eliminated, joining Wichita State.
Adreian Payne had 16 points for Michigan State and his 3-pointer with 1:29 left gave the Spartans the lead for good at 54-51. After a miss by Brogdon, the 6-foot-10 Payne turned point guard, finding Dawson with a line drive lob pass for a dunk with 52 seconds to go.
Harris hit a 3 with 39 seconds left to bring the Cavaliers within 56-54.
Payne found another way to help the Spartans, making two free throws with 32 seconds left for a 58-54 lead.
Brogdon hit a 3 with 1.1 seconds left to bring Virginia within 60-59. Gary Harris made one of two free throws to make it 61-59 and Virginia’s last attempt was well off the mark.
Michigan State came up with a defensive effort that Virginia is known for. The Spartans held the Cavaliers to 35.1 percent shooting (20 of 57), well off the 45.7 percent they shot during the season and nowhere near the 54.3 percent they shot in the two NCAA tournament games.
Dawson, who averages 11.0 points per game, has scored in double figures in six straight games and he had a career-high 26 points in the third-round win over Harvard.
Michigan State started the second half by missing seven of its first eight shots and committing five turnovers. Virginia took advantage to turn a 31-27 halftime deficit into a 38-34 lead. The Spartans went on a 13-2 run to go up 49-42 with 6:10 to go.
Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament champions, answered with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 51 with 1:51 left and then Payne accounted for Michigan State’s next seven points.
Michigan State, which has become one of the favorites for the national championship since it has finally become healthy, shot 44.7 percent from the field (21 for 47) and was able to score just over the 55.5 Virginia had allowed all season in leading the nation in that statistic.
The Spartans, who started the season 18-1 and spent three weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25, shot 52.3 percent in their last four games.
The Spartans started the game doing what teams just don’t against Virginia – make shots. Michigan State made eight of its first 12 from the field in taking a 21-11 lead with 9:46 left in the first half. The Cavaliers allowed teams to shoot 38.6 percent from the field for the season.
The Spartans finally started to miss – making only one of their next eight shots – and Virginia took advantage with a 12-0 run that gave the Cavaliers a 25-23 lead with 3:30 to go. Joe Harris and Brogdon hit 3s in the run – Virginia only had three in the first half – and reserve Anthony Gill contributed three points and brought a hustle spark to the Cavaliers.
Gary Harris dunked and Dawson scored on a drive to break a 27-all tie and give the Spartans a 31-27 halftime lead.
These were the first NCAA tournament games played at Madison Square Garden since 1961.