Tuesday, April 04, 2000

Spartans gut out a title


Cleaves plays hurt in win

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — It was nearly quiet in the Michigan State locker room, but for the constant pleading of Spartans point guard Mateen Cleaves for all these medicine men to hurry up and get him back on the court. There was no crowd noise from the RCA Dome outside. No one took the time to turn on a television and keep everyone up-to-date on the NCAA championship game.

        Cleaves had twisted his ankle in a freak accident with the Spartans ahead of Florida by six points and still 16:18 to play before someone would claim the trophy. A lot of time. Too much time, in Cleaves' estimation, for Michigan State to survive without him.

        The lead was eight when Cleaves returned with 11:51 left. His ankle had been retaped and braced, and he limped when he wasn't sprinting with the ball through a fullcourt press. His ankle ached when the game was over, but nothing else. He stood smiling on the podium after the last second elapsed and joined his teammates in celebrating Michigan State's 89-76 victory over Florida and its second national championship.

        “I was definitely going to try to get back,” Cleaves said. “I told them they were going to have to amputate my leg to keep me out of this.”

        The Spartans (32-7) were led in scoring by senior Morris Peterson, who produced 15 of his 21 points in the second half. He appeared to be inspired by Cleaves' return and dashed off 12 points in a 20-8 surge that buried the Gators. They also got 17 from power forward A.J. Granger.

        Cleaves scored 18 points, including 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range and 13 in the first half. He was named the Final Four's most outstanding player. It was a just end for Cleaves, whose arrival on the MSU campus four years ago was the sign the Spartans were about to enter the college basketball elite.

        His career ended with a 12-2 record in NCAA Tournament games.

        “The guy has the heart of a lion,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo. “He has worked for this for four years.”

        Florida (29-8) frequently worked the ball inside to center Udonis Haslem, who was 10-of-12 from the field and scored 27, but the Spartans chose not to double-team him as they protected a lead through much of the game. The Gators shot just 6-of-18 on 3-pointers.

        Michigan State did not commit a turnover for the first 12 minutes, a near-flawless performance against a pressure defense, and finished the half with just three.

        With Cleaves gone, Florida turned up its pressure by moving 6-8 Brent Wright to guard in the inbounds pass and attempting to deny the easy pass to either side. The Spartans turned over the ball 11 times in the second half, but managed to extend the lead in their leader's absence.

        “I put the team on my shoulders,” said junior guard Charlie Bell, who had been MSU's point guard when Cleaves missed the first 13 games with a broken foot. “I feel very comfortable running the point. We have had adversity all year, and tonight was no different. We are a team, and that's why we are still standing.”

        Cleaves injured himself in this game on the most curious play. He was dribbling through the Florida press when he was fouled above the top of the key by Florida's Brett Nelson. Perhaps because he did not hear the whistle blow, he continued on toward the goal, even though he clearly walked with the ball.

        When Cleaves got to the baseline, he still was being chased by Florida's Teddy Dupay. Cleaves elevated for a shot and he became tangled with Dupay as he landed. Dupay's right leg kicked at Cleaves' ankle, which was planted.

        Cleaves tried to crawl to his feet, but instead rolled to his back. He departed the game with 16:18 left and the Spartans ahead, 50-44.

        “Unless he's pretty much on his last breath, he's not coming off the floor,” said Dr. Jeff Kovan, MSU's team physician. “He knew this was different.”

        Without him, though, the Spartans held Florida scoreless through five consecutive trips and got five points from reserve guard Mike Chappell, a Duke transfer.

        “I didn't hesitate,” Chappell said. “I was really looking forward to that. If I was going to get an open look at it, I knew I was going to hit it.”

        The miracles of modern medicine made Cleaves healthy enough to return, and modern technology trumpeted his return. The video-board above the stands showed him hobbling down the hallway, and Michigan State's fans celebrated.

        Peterson got a 3-point play by dashing through the press almost as soon as Cleaves returned. In MSU's last four games, Peterson scored 60 of his 80 points following halftime.

        “Offensively is where they hurt us,” Dupay said. “They scored pretty much at will.”

Associated Press Final Four Coverage
Cleaves: 4 years well spent at MSU
FINAL FOUR NOTES


FLORIDA (76)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Wright          29   5-8   3-5  4-10  4  4   13
Miller          31   2-5   5-6   1-3  2  0   10
Haslem          28 10-12   7-7   2-2  0  4   27
Dupay           15   0-4   0-0   0-0  1  2    0
Hamilton        14   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Nelson          26  4-10   0-0   1-4  3  1   11
Bonner           7   0-3   0-0   1-3  0  1    0
Weaks           22   1-3   0-0   1-1  1  2    3
Harvey          16  3-11   3-4   4-6  0  2    9
Parker          12   1-3   0-0   0-0  2  2    3
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 26-60 18-22 14-29 13 19   76
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.433, FT-.818. 3-Point Goals: 6-18, .333 (Wright 0-1, Miller 1-2, Dupay 0-2, Hamilton 0-1, Nelson 3-6, Bonner 0-2, Weaks 1-1, Parker 1-3). Team rebounds: 1. Blocked shots: 2 (Haslem, Harvey). Turnovers: 13 (Haslem 3, Nelson 3, Harvey 2, Miller 2, Parker, Weaks, Wright). Steals: 5 (Nelson 2, Weaks 2, Wright).

MICHIGAN ST (89) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Hutson 23 2-4 2-2 0-1 3 4 6 Peterson 32 7-14 4-6 1-2 5 3 21 Granger 34 7-11 2-2 2-9 1 2 19 Cleaves 33 7-11 1-1 0-2 4 1 18 Bell 33 3-6 2-3 3-8 5 2 9 Richardson 15 4-7 1-2 1-2 0 1 9 Anagonye 11 0-0 0-0 2-3 0 0 0 Chappell 6 2-4 0-0 1-1 0 4 5 Ballinger 6 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 Thomas 4 0-0 0-0 1-1 1 1 0 Smith 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Cherry 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Ishbia 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 33-59 12-16 11-29 19 20 89 _______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.559, FT-.750. 3-Point Goals: 11-22, .500 (Peterson 3-8, Granger 3-5, Cleaves 3-4, Bell 1-2, Chappell 1-3). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 1 (Anagonye). Turnovers: 14 (Peterson 3, Anagonye 2, Bell 2, Cleaves 2, Granger 2, Chappell, Hutson, Thomas). Steals: 5 (Bell 2, Chappell, Peterson, Richardson). __________________________________ Florida 32 44 - 76 Michigan St 43 46 - 89 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 43,116. Officials: Jim Burr, Gerald Boudreaux, David Hall.



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