– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
WASHINGTON — Each of the top four seeds in the East Region of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament reached the Sweet 16, and now it’s time to see which of the quartet will hold court the best in our nation’s capital to advance to Minneapolis.
While Michigan State, historically, has made it a habit of going far in the Big Dance, it has been since 2015 that the Spartans have made the Elite Eight. That was until tonight, as the Spartans pulled off a wire-to-wire job in defeating the Southeastern Conference regular-season champions, the LSU Tigers, 80-63 in the first game of the doubleheader at the home of the Washington Wizards. The Spartans scored the first eight points of the contest and never looked back, as freshmen Aaron Henry led all Spartans scorers with 20 points. Another freshman, guard Gabe Brown, came off the bench to score 15 points and hit four of Michigan State’s 13 three-pointers in the contest.
LSU, playing under interim head coach Tony Benford as Will Wade continues to serve a school-imposed suspension while an FBI investigation continues about his role in possible recruiting violations, was able to get back into the game with an 13-0 run spanning the first and second halves, including a three-pointer by Tremont Waters right before the first-half buzzer, that cut the Spartans’ lead to 40-36 with 17:59 remaining. The Bayou Bengals remained down only four at 45-41 before Michigan State put the game away with a 15-0 run, capped off by a Kenny Goins’ three-pointer.
Waters led all scorers with 23 points, but the Tigers could not overcome being outrebounded 21-10 in the first half as the Spartans grabbed as many offensive rebounds in the first half as LSU had total rebounds.
While the first game was decided, virtually, from the first basket of the game, the nightcap provided all the drama needed to make the entire night a memorable one. For a second consecutive game, the top seed in the East Region, the Duke Blue Devils, needed the help of a last-second missed layup to advance in the NCAA Tournament, this time defeating fellow ACC rival and No. 4 seed Virginia Tech 75-73. The game was not decided until, with 1.1 seconds left, the Hokies’ Ahmed Hill received an inbounds pass while cutting to the basket but missed on his semi-tip of the ball to the basket which would have tied the game.
“What a game. Huge, great game. And we beat an outstanding team that I thought they played great,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They’re so difficult to defend. And in the second half our guys did a really good job of that.”
Duke once again relied heavily on its talented freshmen class, which shouldered even more of the load when one of the four super frosh, Cam Reddish, was ruled out for the game just minutes before the opening tip with a knee injury. Zion Williamson, who missed the meeting between the two teams on Feb. 26, led all scorers with 23 points, Tre Jones had 22 and RJ Barrett had 18 points and a career-high 11 assists.
Virginia Tech, which took a four-point lead into halftime, found itself down 60-52 with just over 10 minutes before making its last surge, led by Kerry Blackshear’s 18 points and 16 rebounds. Guard Justin Robinson, who also didn’t play in the team’s meeting back in February because of a foot injury, came off the bench to score 14 points, grab three rebounds dish out five assists.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Friday’s games, with all photos taken by ALOST DC-area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are currently 35 pictures in total.