Playing in front of a Final Four record crowd, Michigan State and North Carolina have earned the right to battle for the men's college basketball championship title. Michigan State topped Connecticut 82-73 in the first semifinal, while North Carolina defeated Villanova 83-69 in the late game.
Playing in front of 72,546 wildly cheering partisan fans just 145-kilometers from their campus in East Lansing (Michigan), Michigan State jumped out to an early 9-2 lead and finished the first half with a 38-36 advantage.
But it was a more closely-fought game than the final score indicates, with the game tied nine times and the lead changing hands six times. However, Michigan pulled away in the second half, building an 11 point lead with just over three minutes left in the game, before fending off a Connecticut rally for the 82-73 victory.
Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas scored 21 points for Michigan State while Raymar Morgan added 18. Winning coach Tom Izzo says Lucas had an unbelievable game.
"Kalin hit some big shots early, then I thought he controlled the game. The job he did and the help he gave was incredible," he said, "just incredible."
Hasheem Thabeet led Connecticut with 17 points in a losing cause.
In the late semifinal, North Carolina took an 8-6 lead on a three-pointer from Wayne Ellington three minutes into the game and never looked back. Ellington made five of his first six shots, including a three-pointer before ending the night with 20 points.
Ty Lawson added 22 more and Tyler Hansbrough had 18 points and 11 rebounds as the overpowering North Carolina squad cruised to the 83-69 win and an expected berth in Monday night's championship game against Michigan State. But Ellington says his team does not worry about outside expectations.
"Within ourselves we know we just wanted to compete as hard as we could this season and leave it all on the floor," he said. "And you know, with us doing that we got back to this point and got past where we were last year and we are happy to be able to compete for a national championship on Monday night."
This was the second consecutive year North Carolina made it to the Final Four and its record 18th appearance. They lost to Kansas last year in the semifinals.