Michigan State basketball has a long, storied pedigree of success and is one of the model programs in college basketball. This isn’t news to anyone.
Tom Izzo is a beacon of stability, as his Spartans have made the NCAA tournament every year since 1998. Izzo took over as head coach prior to the 1995-96 season. Toughness, tenacity and resilience are all key principles of the Spartan program, and those ideals have translated to regular and postseason success.
It’s no secret that Michigan State hoops has produced some classic games and moments over the years. And in the spirit of Midnight Madness festivities taking place tonight in East Lansing, here are five of the most memorable moments of Coach Izzo’s tenure.
Adreian Payne strikes up friendship with 8-year-old girl batting cancer
Payne, who is now in the NBA, befriended a young girl battling cancer in a Lansing hospital during his time at Michigan State. Coach Izzo stresses the importance of making an impact off the floor, as well, and Payne embodied that philosophy as well as anyone.
It was time for my lil princess to go home & feel no more pain,now she's happy & she's my angel watching over me. pic.twitter.com/bpUPCipcif— Adreian Payne (@Adreian_Payne) April 10, 2014
Lacey is no longer with us, but her spirit lives on.
Tom Izzo reaches his first Final Four in 1999
Looking back, it would seem silly to only point out one Michigan State Final Four. They’ve made seven during Izzo’s tenure. Each trip is special for its own reasons, but the first is always extra gratifying.
In the 1999 Elite Eight, the Spartans trailed Kentucky by double-digits in the first half. But sharpshooter Mo Peterson started firing on all cylinders, and Michigan State came back to top UK by a score of 73-66. The Spartans would lose to Duke in the national semifinals, but that 1998-99 team’s 33 wins are still the most in any season for Izzo.
Michigan State sinks Connecticut in the 2009 Final Four
It’s fun to dig up some of these old Spartan names. In 2009, Michigan State advanced to the Final Four in nearby Detroit as a No. 2 seed. Raymar Morgan scored 18 points and tallied nine rebounds as the Spartans upset the No. 1 Huskies in front of a sea of Spartan green.
Remember Durrell Summers?
UConn certainly does. Michigan State would go on to lose to North Carolina in the national championship game, but 2008-09 was a fruitful year for Izzo’s bunch.
Michigan State stuns Kentucky in double-overtime in 2005
The 2004-05 Spartans featured the likes of Paul Davis, Alan Anderson, Shannon Brown and Drew Neitzel. In Sparty’s 94-88 double-overtime win in the Elite Eight against the Wildcats, Brown was tough, efficient and clutch. He scored 24 points on just 10 field goal attempts.
Accurate free-throw shooting was paramount for the Spartans, who scored 11 of their 13 double-overtime points at the line.
Michigan State wins the national title against Florida in 2000
It’s a little surprising that Izzo only has one national title as a head coach to his name, but the Spartans were a fantastic team in 1999-00. They finished with 32 wins, which is the second-highest total of the Izzo era. The 1999-00 team featured Spartan greats such as Peterson, Charlie Bell, the freshman version of Jason Richardson and Mateen Cleaves.
Fun fact about the Cleaves-Izzo relationship: Izzo’s son’s middle name is ‘Mateen’ and Cleaves’ son’s middle name is ‘Izzy.’ The more you know.
Anyway, here is some early 2000s footage of the title game:
Michigan State upended the Gators by a tally of 89-76 to win it all. ‘Mo Pete’ dropped 21, while Cleaves had 18 and A.J. Granger chipped in 19.
Cleaves’ 18 points, however, doesn’t tell the whole story. In the second half, the MSU floor general was taken down by Teddy Dupay, and he had to go to the locker room with a sprained ankle. Four minutes later, he limped his way out of the tunnel and led the Spartans to victory.
Of course he did. Having your ex-coach give his son a middle name in your honor doesn’t come without sacrifice, and it encompasses everything this basketball program has been about for two decades.
Let the Midnight Madness begin.