Unlikely Heroes (And Magic) Top List Of Most Memorable MSU Basketball Sweet 16 Moments

Written By Dan Holmes on March 22, 2023
MSU basketball Sweet 16

Like a hiker going down a path he or she has been down a thousand times, the Michigan State Spartans are where they are comfortable: in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

This time, it may feel like the Spartans are crashing March Madness: it’s the first time since 2015 (and only the second time ever) that MSU has advanced to the round of 16 while being higher than a No. 4 seed. Tom Izzo has led his team to the Sweet 16 for a remarkable 15th time in 28 seasons.

Michigan sportsbooks like the Spartans chances, as MSU is listed as on the moneyline, and against the spread for its Sweet 16 game against Kansas State. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 23. The game will air on TBS.

We won’t know how much we’ll remember this tournament run until we learn if the Spartans go on to the Elite 8 or Final Four, but we do know MSU has a tradition of big moments in March Madness. Below, we rank the top Sweet 16 moments by a Michigan State men’s team.

2003: Late heroics from Paul Davis topple defending champ Maryland

Has a freshman ever come up so big for the Spartans? In a tight defensive struggle with the Maryland Terrapins (the defending national champions), MSU needed the unexpected offensive chops of Paul Davis, a 6-foot-11 center from Rochester, Mich..

Trailing by four with under a minute to go, Davis corralled a pass in the paint and scored on a slam dunk to tie the game at 58. Following a defensive stop, Michigan State set up offensively and Davis found himself with the ball on the baseline with less than 10 seconds on the clock.

He slashed to the hoop, meeting two Maryland defenders. That’s when Davis leaned and twisted his big frame and shot a short rainbow off the glass from three feet away to score the game-winner with 4.7 seconds left.

MSU lost in the Elite 8 to Texas, but the two baskets by 19-year old Davis remain legendary in East Lansing.

2000: Second half adjustments against Syracuse

This was the tale of two halves. In the first, MSU couldn’t find the bottom of the basket, and it also lost its way in transition, allowing No. 4 Syracuse to run the court basically at will. The Orange led 34-24 at halftime, with a visibly upset Izzo heading into the locker room.

The right words must have come out of Izzo’s mouth, because the Spartans played like demons in the second half. Led by Morris Peterson, A.J. Granger and Charlie Bell, the Spartans shackled Syracuse as they made defensive adjustments in the second half.

The Spartans held their opponent to 24 points in the final 20 minutes, and ran away for a 17-point victory, 75-58 in their backyard at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Eleven days later, Izzo and his team, led by senior guard Mateen Cleaves, defeated the Florida Gators in the national championship game, giving MSU its second title.

1986: Clock malfunction in loss to Kansas

Tom Izzo wasn’t even the head coach, but he played a strange part in this unusual game played in Kansas City.

With just over two minutes left in the second half and MSU leading by four points, the Kansas Jayhawks inbounded the ball, but the clock operator failed to run the clock for about 15 seconds. At the ensuing dead ball, Izzo informed head coach Jud Heathcote of the problem. Kansas scored a basket to cut the lead in half, and MSU’s Scott Skiles proceeded to sink a free throw to get the lead back to two.

But, the officials never addressed the clock failure and did not seek to run the time off the clock. Kansas tied the score, and defeated Skiles (who scored 20 in an inspired performance) and Heathcote, much to Izzo and Spartan Nation’s chagrin.

2005: Alan Anderson’s bombs defeat Duke

Senior forward Alan Anderson, who was never a 3-point threat, found it in himself to somehow make 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in a 78-68 victory over No. 1 seed Duke in Austin in the Regional semifinal.

The game was tied at the half, but the Spartan attack from long-range pushed the team to a lead at about the 12-minute mark of the second half. The win over hated Duke gave Izzo and his team a fifth appearance in the Elite 8 in seven years. MSU eventually lost in the Final Four to North Carolina.

1979: Magic leads Spartans past LSU

Only seconds into this Sweet 16 game played in Indianapolis, Magic Johnson served notice that it was going to be a long night for the LSU Tigers.

Running the fast break off LSU’s first miss, Magic found teammate Ron Charles for an easy layup with a patented bounce pass across the court. The Tigers didn’t know what to make of the smiling, break-pushing Johnson. At that time, a 6-9 point guard was unheard of.

Behind Magic and the scoring of Charles and Greg Kelser, the Spartans pounded the Tigers in the first half, 36-19. The lead never got below nine in the second half, and MSU advanced. A little over a week later, Magic and his teammates cut down the nets after beating Larry Bird and Indiana State in the National Finals.

2014: Keith Appling’s intentional miss knocks off No. 1 Virginia

This was the team led by Keith Appling and Gary Harris, two tenacious backcourt players and team leaders. Following wins over two overmatched opponents (Delaware and Harvard), Izzo’s team was tested by Virginia. Still, the Spartans built a double-digit lead with under eight minutes left.

The Cavaliers gamely fought back, and with 1.1 seconds left a three-pointer pulled them within one point. Virginia fouled Appling, who calmly sank a free throw and intentionally missed the second to allow the clock to expire. It was a memorable win for the Spartans, even though they lost their next game to Connecticut.

Photo by Associated Press
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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a Michigan resident who writes about sports betting, sports media, casino and sports betting legislative matters. He's the author of three books, and previously reported for Major League Baseball, as well as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters.

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