NEW YORK — Michigan State turned the defensive tables on Virginia and the Spartans advanced to the Elite Eight, putting them back in a place where they have had a lot of success.
Branden Dawson had 24 points and 10 rebounds and the Spartans forced top-seeded Virginia into a terrible shooting performance in a 61-59 victory Friday night to advance to East Regional final of the NCAA tournament.
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. The Spartans have a 6-1 record in those games and in 2000 they went on to win it all.
Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon 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 the kind of 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.
"I think I definitely have to credit their defense," Brogdon said. "They have a lot of good athletes. They contest shots. But we also missed some easy layups inside for sure. But I can't take away from their defense."
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. He missed nine games this season with a broken right hand, an injury he inflicted on himself when he hit a table while watching film.
Payne missed seven games with a right foot sprain and Gary Harris and Keith Appling were bothered most of the season with nagging injuries. Since the Big Ten tournament started and the Spartans didn't have much trouble winning it, everyone has been healthy.
UConn 81, Iowa State 76
At New York, DeAndre Daniels scored 27 points, 19 in the second half, and UConn held off Iowa State to reach the East Regional final a year after the Huskies were barred from the NCAA tournament.
Daniels hit his first six shots after halftime, the only Husky to make a field goal for over 81/2; minutes. His 3-pointer gave seventh-seeded UConn a 49-32 lead.
The Cyclones rallied late, pulling within 67-63 with 21/2; minutes remaining. But senior Niels Giffey hit a 3 in the corner for his first points since the game's opening moments, and when the Huskies (29-8) made their free throws in the final minute, the UConn fans packing Madison Square Garden could celebrate. Dustin Hogue scored a career-high 34 points for third-seeded Iowa State (28-8).
Michigan 73, Tennessee 71
At Indianapolis, Jordan Morgan scored 15 points and Nik Stauskas had 14 including a key free throw to help Michigan hold on for a victory over Tennessee in a Midwest Regional semifinal.
The Wolverines (28-8) led by 15 with 10:55 to go, but committed four turnovers in the final 97 seconds. Tennessee (24-13) cut the lead to 72-71 and had a chance to take the lead, but Jarnell Stokes was called for an offensive foul with 6 seconds left.
Stauskas then made 1 of 2 free throws and Tennessee's long desperation heave was off the mark.
Jordan McRae scored 24 to lead the 11th-seeded Vols.
For most of the first 36 minutes, Michigan was in firm control.
Then came a stunning turnaround by Tennessee, a bubble team that had to win a first round game just to get into the round of 64.
When Stauskas, the Big Ten player of the year, knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:37 to go, the Wolverines led 70-60 and looked like they would cruise.
Instead, Tennessee gave up just one more basket and steadily took advantage of Michigan's miscues. When McRae completed a three-point play with 1:56 left, the Vols trailed 72-67. Richardson's layup made it 72-69 with 24.6 seconds left and when the Wolverines threw away the ball on the next possession, McRae's layup cut Michigan's lead to 72-71.
Another turnover on an inbounds play gave Stokes the chance to put Tennessee ahead.
But Stokes, who contended he did not commit the foul, was called for the charge and the Vols' comeback was over.
Michigan should be getting used to these sorts of finishes in Indianapolis.
Two weeks ago when they were in Indy for the Big Ten tourney, the Wolverines had to hang on twice after seemingly having comfortable leads against Illinois and Ohio State. Eventually, they wound up losing to Michigan State in the title game.
Their inability to put a team away nearly did them in Friday.
It sure didn't look like it would come down to the final shot when Michigan shot 61.5 percent from the field in the first half and led by as much as 13. Or even in the second half when they led by as much as 15.
But Tennessee buckled down defensively and rallied to cut the lead to six with 6:41 to play before the closing rally.