On the eve of the Final Four, one team can probably credit a SWAC school for ending up in Indianapolis.
It was Dec. 20, 2014 when Texas Southern traveled to East Lansing to battle Big Ten power Michigan State in a game that had the makings of a blowout on paper.
Texas Southern entered the contest at 1-8 that day. Although Michigan State was a meager 8-3 through the first 11 games of the regular season, it was still Michigan State against an unheralded Texas Southern team only known for a coach in Mike Davis, who once led Indiana to the Final Four more than a decade ago.
We were all wrong.
Texas Southern stunned Michigan State 71-64 in overtime. A school that had been blitzed by Florida, Baylor, and Gonzaga by an average of 30 points per game took down a traditional power on the road.
It was the single worst loss in the Tom Izzo era. No one questioned it.
In response to the upset, a grumpy Izzo told the assembled the press after the game that he was going to hold a grueling practice the next day to send his Spartans a message.
I’m going to find out what the NCAA will legally allow me to practice tomorrow and probably exceed it,” the Michigan State coach said. “That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
“Tomorrow’s going to be hell,” junior forward Matt Costello said after learning of Izzo’s planned torture. “It is seriously going to suck. No going to church tomorrow.”
Matt Steigenga, a current broadcaster who played for Michigan State from 1988-92, said the soon-to-be Hall Fame coach knew the loss to Texas Southern would have consequences, but he refused to let it break their season.
“Tom’s never given up on them,” Steigenga said. “I remember interviewing him after the Texas Southern game and he said (the loss) might cost them at tournament time, and he was right (they entered as a seventh seed). But even then he believed in them. And they haven’t let him down.”
After the loss, Michigan State staged a season-long rally that saw them go 18-7 over the next 25 games, including surprising Virginia, Oklahoma and then Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.
If Michigan State wins the national championship Monday night, it will be the end of an improbable run that began with an improbable loss to Texas Southern.
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