Saturday, March 20, 1999

MICHIGAN STATE 54, OKLAHOMA 46


Spartans muscle on to Kentucky

The Associated Press

        ST. LOUIS — Michigan State isn't the smoothest team in the NCAA Tournament, although the Spartans may be the toughest. Oklahoma found that out Friday night.

        Michigan State shut down the Sooners' perimeter shooting, flattened their best player and muscled its way to a 54-46 victory in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

        All-American point guard Mateen Cleaves, whose collision with Oklahoma star Eduardo Najera knocked out both players, was only 3-of-14 from the field, and his top-seeded Spartans shot just 40 percent. But 13th-seeded Oklahoma was held to 33 percent and was just 4-of-15 from three-point range, where the Sooners had been so effective in the first two rounds.

        “It was an ugly game,” Cleaves said. “It's been an ugly tournament for MSU, to tell you the truth. But the guys are coming through, we've come together as a team and we're in the great eight.”

        With their 21st straight victory, the Spartans (32-4) advanced to the regional finals for the first time since their nation al championship season of 1979.

        Oklahoma (22-11) held its own on the backboards and gave up only one fast-break basket. But the Sooners got just seven points from Najera, none in the final 16 minutes, and couldn't shake Michigan State's perimeter defense.

        “If you had told me before the game that we would have more offensive rebounds than Michigan State, that they would have just seven and Mateen would go 3-for-14, I would like our chances,” coach Kelvin Sampson said.

        “One of the things that's jumped up and bit us in the butt this year is the inability to make shots, but Michigan State deserves some of the credit.”

        Oklahoma had a 14-6 rebounding margin after the first 121/2 minutes against a team that came in averaging 10 more rebounds a game than its opponents. The Sooners also did a good job penetrating against the Spartans' man-to-man defense and as a result trailed by only a point at halftime.

        During the break, coach Tom Izzo reminded his team of how it had gotten this far — by rebounding well and defending.

        “We found a way to win 31 other games that way, so why not the 32nd?” he said.

        The Spartans held Oklahoma scoreless for the first 3:45 of the second half and took a 32-25 lead. Then they committed turnovers eight in the next eight minutes but still led 36-31 because of their defense.

        That was the score when Cleaves, chasing Michael Johnson, ran into a screen set by Najera with 9:34 remaining. Both players fell backward to the floor, and the game was held up about 10 minutes while trainers attended to each.

        “I had some collisions in my life, and that ranks among the top of them,” Cleaves said.

        After the delay, Michigan State got a three-pointer by Charlie Bell and a fast-break dunk by Morris Peterson to take its biggest lead, 41-31, with 8:36 remaining.

        The closest Oklahoma came after that was 47-43 with 1:41 to play. The Spartans went 5-of-6 from the foul line in the final 45 seconds to seal the victory.

        Cleaves and Najera both returned to the game, but Najera was no factor.

        OKLAHOMA (22-11) — Najera 2-8 2-2 7, Humphrey 4-8 2-5 10, Johnson 4-15 3-4 12, Martin 1-8 0-0 3, Spaulding 3-7 1-3 7, Heskett 1-2 0-0 3, Avila 2-3 0-0 4, Stone 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-51 8-14 46.

        MICHIGAN ST. (32-4) — A.Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Hutson 3-3 6-10 12, Klein 1-5 0-0 3, Cleaves 3-14 3-4 9, Bell 3-3 0-0 9, Kelley 0-4 0-0 0, Davis 0-2 0-0 0, Peterson 4-8 3-4 11, Granger 4-5 0-0 10. Totals 18-45 12-18 54.

        Halftime score — Michigan St. 26, Oklahoma 25. Three-point Goals—Oklahoma 4-15 (Heskett 1-1, Najera 1-4, Johnson 1-4, Martin 1-5, Spaulding 0-1), Michigan St. 6-15 (Bell 3-3, Granger 2-2, Klein 1-3, Peterson 0-1, Kelley 0-2, Cleaves 0-4). Fouled out—Humphrey. Rebounds—Oklahoma 31 (Humphrey 10), Michigan St. 36 (Granger, Peterson, A.Smith 7). Assists—Oklahoma 5 (Martin 2), Michigan St. 10 (Davis 4). Total fouls—Oklahoma 17, Michigan St. 18. A—NA.

       



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