March 22, 2009

 

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -An unexpected scoring binge from the Big Ten's defensive player of the year propelled Michigan State to a familiar place.

Travis Walton scored a career-high 18 points to lift the second-seeded Spartans to a 74-69 victory over 10th-seeded USC on Sunday in the Midwest Regional, putting Michigan State in the round of 16 for the eighth time in 12 years.

"I was shocked that he did make some of those shots," coach Tom Izzo said of Walton, who entered the game averaging 4.9 points and was shut out against Robert Morris in the first round.

Durell Summers added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Spartans (28-6), who have advanced to the regional semifinals more times in the last dozen years than any team besides Duke.

They'll play third-seeded Kansas on Friday in Indianapolis.

Dwight Lewis scored 19 points and DeMar DeRozan added 18 points for USC (22-13), which is starting to look like more than just a football school under coach Tim Floyd.

Raymar Morgan calls Michigan State's backcourt of Walton and Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas "Fire and Ice," with Lucas providing the heat on offense and Walton cooling down the opposing team's top perimeter threat on the other end of the floor.

"You look at me as a defensive stopper, but I've been practicing my shot," Walton said. "Kalin put the ball in my hands. I had high confidence when I shot them and they went in."

Walton hadn't scored in double figures since he had 11 against Kansas on Jan. 10. But with the offense sputtering and the Trojans attacking, the senior could not have picked a better time to come through.

Floyd worried that the lack of depth - three Trojans played all 40 minutes and star Taj Gibson played 36 against Boston College - would hinder them against Michigan State, which goes 10 deep. Gibson fouled out with 5:38 to play, but these kids showed plenty of California cool even without their leader on the floor.

Lewis scored six straight points for the Trojans, including two free throws that tied the game at 69 with less than 4 minutes to go.

Walton drilled his third tie-breaking jumper of the final 10 minutes on the other end. After Daniel Hackett lost the ball on a drive to the basket, Nikola Vucevic was whistled for a questionable foul on Goran Suton. Floyd flopped to the court in fury, but Suton made both free throws for a 73-69 lead with 1:19 to go.

Lewis and Hackett missed 3-pointers on the other end and the Trojans missed their final nine shots from the field to help the Spartans survive.

After going a perfect 10-for-10 with 24 points and six rebounds in the Trojans' opening-round victory over BC on Friday, Gibson scored just three points with no rebounds and five blocks in 23 minutes.

With USC out, the Pac-10 only has one team remaining in the field in Arizona. California, Washington, UCLA and Arizona State also failed to make it out of the first weekend, making it the first time since 2004 that at least two Pac-10 teams aren't in the round of 16.

But the best may be yet to come for these Trojans, who have appeared in a school-record three straight NCAA tournaments. DeRozan, Leonard Washington (10 points, seven rebounds) and Vucevic (six points, four boards in 22 minutes) are freshmen. If Hackett, Lewis and Gibson return for their senior years and DeRozen sticks around, the Trojans will be loaded.

"I'm really proud of them," Floyd said. "We're a team that has talent, and it's young talent. ... If there's some way we can keep them together, we have a chance to be a very special team."

For Walton, there is no next year.

In the last 12 years, every Spartan who has stayed four years has played in a Final Four.

Now, thanks to his 8-for-13 shooting, Michigan State has a chance to keep that impressive and treasured statistic going.

"I was surprised. I am sure Tim was," Izzo said. "I am sure their players were. I am sure, if you are honest, our players were. Because he really hasn't shot the ball well lately."