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UConn headed to Final Four, stops Michigan State

Connecticut's Ryan Boatright celebrates after his team defeating Michigan State 60-54 regional final NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday March 30

Connecticut's Ryan Boatright celebrates after his team defeating Michigan State 60-54 in a regional final at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 30, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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Updated: March 30, 2014 10:12PM



NEW YORK — Tom Izzo won’t be defined by Michigan State’s 60-54 East Regional final loss to Connecticut on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. But his mystique took a hit.

With the loss, a senior class led by Keith Appling and Adreian Payne became Izzo’s first group of four-year players never to play in a Final Four.

It wasn’t emphasized at all this season by the coaching staff. Izzo even said the streak wasn’t that important. But considering the overwhelming number of injuries the Spartans dealt with this season, the loss was a gut punch for Izzo, who had said the team had the talent to make the Final Four.

“This one would have been as important as any one I’ve been in just because I think we went through the most, and it’s just disappointing,” Izzo said. “Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes, you know, streaks are made to be broken. It wasn’t going to go forever.”

It will be argued that the streak fell because of a bad foul call.

With the Spartans down by two, Appling was whistled for a foul (his fifth) on UConn’s Shabazz Napier on a three-point attempt. Napier hit all three free throws. Izzo disagreed with the call.

But having made six Final Four appearances, Izzo knew the real reason for the loss: turnovers. Michigan State committed 16, which led to 18 UConn points.

Izzo said he told his players they have to “bring it every second” in the tournament. The Spartans didn’t Sunday, especially the seniors who held the Final Four streak in their hands.

“As the game got closer and closer to ending, it was on my mind a lot — every huddle,” Payne said.

Payne had the right mentality. Asked about the streak before the game, Izzo said those who can’t take the pressure picked the wrong school.

The streak likely was part of being recruiting by Michigan State. There’s no way Izzo would omit it from his recruiting pitch.

Stay for four years, and you’ll go to a Final Four. Leave, and that probably means you’re playing in the NBA. There might not have been a better pitch in the country.

Even though it’s gone, Izzo won’t have trouble getting people to play for him. He’s still in the pantheon of coaches in college basketball.

But while a broken streak won’t break him, it took a chip out of his aura — albeit ever so small.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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