INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Friday night was the one time Tom Izzo hoped his only son made the wrong choice.
Turns out, the 12-year-old got it exactly right.
Just days after word leaked that Izzo’s son had picked Duke to beat his dad’s team in the Midwest Regional final, Seth Curry scored 29 points to lead the Blue Devils to a 71-61 victory over the Spartans.
“I felt we never got on track,” Izzo said. “We were in foul trouble the whole game and that seemed like that wasn’t going to end.”
For the Spartans (27-9), it never really did.
Keith Appling scored 16 points despite playing with a brace over his injured right shoulder. Adreian Payne had 14 points and 10 rebounds. But the rest of the Spartans struggled on a night they were just flat out of sync.
Curry “made great shots and he had good looks at the basket,” Payne said. “When someone’s making shots like that and we had the momentum, yeah, it is deflating.”
Curry’s big game put coach Mike Krzyzewski on the verge of a 12th Final Four appearance, which would equal John Wooden’s record. Krzyzewski is tied for second with North Carolina’s Dean Smith.
Next up for the second-seeded Blue Devils is Louisville (32-5), a 77-69 winner over Oregon in the night’s first game, and it could be a virtual home game for the top-seeded Cardinals just about 100 miles from their campus. Plus, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is trying for his seventh Final Four, which would tie him for fourth with Roy Williams.
But Duke beat Louisville 76-71 on Nov. 24, and with Curry shooting like this, the Blue Devils just might have the advantage.
“Seth was just at a different level than anyone else on the court offensively tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “To get 29 points in a game like this against a good team is just incredible.”
The win comes 16 months after Duke beat Michigan State to give Krzyzewski the NCAA record for wins. And now, one year after falling to Lehigh in the second round of the tournament, Duke has reached the regional final in the same venue where it won its fourth national title — just as Izzo’s son predicted.
Third-seeded Michigan State couldn’t keep up with Curry and Duke’s other shooters. Rasheed Sulaimon had 16 points for the Blue Devils, making 12 of 14 from the free-throw line, and Mason Plumlee finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in the return to his home state.
And the biggest difference was Curry.
“Curry’s a fifth-year senior. He’s wise. He knows how to come off things and get open,” Izzo said after falling to 1-3 in NCAA tourney play against Krzyzewski. “I think our freshmen got a little lesson tonight.”
Curry’s sixth 3-pointer of the game broke a 38-38 tie early in the second half, sending Duke on a 9-0 run. It also matched the school record for most 3s in an NCAA tourney game, most recently accomplished by Jason Williams on March 22, 2001, against UCLA.
The Blue Devils never trailed again.
“Honestly, I was just trying to help my shot. I got a few to go early,” Curry said. “I feel like every time I take a shot it’s going to go down and nothing felt different tonight.”
The game was billed as an entertaining contest between two of college basketball’s most successful coaches — and it lived up to the hype.
The first half was played to a near draw with four ties and eight lead changes.
Michigan State grabbed an 18-17 lead on Derrick Nix’s tip-in with 9:52 left in the first half, but Curry then scored nine points in an 11-2 run for the Blue Devils. He was fouled by Travis Trice while attempting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to make it 28-20 with 4:59 remaining.
Back came the Spartans, who clamped down on defense and closed to 32-31 at halftime.
But Curry’s early second-half scoring spree forced Michigan State to play catch-up the rest of the way. The Spartans pulled within seven with 1:32 to go, but couldn’t get any closer after trailing by as much as 13 in the second half.
“We knew we would have to play at that level. They’re a little more athletic than we are,” Krzyzewski said. “We had to try to match that and tonight we were able to do that. I’m glad it’s not a seven-game series because I’m not sure we’d be able to continue to do it. But tonight we were able to do it.”