Minneapolis, MN – Two of the top defensive teams in the nation won exciting Final Four contests and head to the NCAA Tournament championship game on Monday night. Virginia and Texas Tech escaped with wins before 72,711 fans at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Kyle Guy drained three free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining to help Virginia to a thrilling 63-62 Final Four victory over Auburn. Guy was fouled on the body by Auburn’s Samir Doughty as he attempted a three-pointer from the corner. Guy had connected on a three-pointer with seven seconds left to draw the Cavaliers to within 61-60. Auburn’s Jared Harper was then fouled immediately. He made the first, but then missed the second, paving the way from the exciting ending. Guy finished with 15 points while Ty Jerome led Virginia with team-highs of 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists. De’Andre Hunter came alive in the second half for the Cavaliers, scoring ten of his 14 points. Doughty led Auburn with 13 points while Anfernee McLemore added a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with nine points.
Virginia looked to be comfortably ahead after Jerome hit a three-pointer to put them in front 57-47 with 5:22 remaining. However the Cavaliers didn’t score again for the next 5:05 while Auburn scored 14 straight points, helped by three three-pointers, two of them from Bryce Brown (12 points). Auburn appeared to be in control with a four-point lead with 17 seconds remaining but it was not to be. The Tigers played an efficient second half, only committing one turnover against Virginia’s vaunted defense.
The first half was evenly played as a three-pointer from McLemore gave Auburn a 31-29 lead at the break. The Tigers only made one on their first 11 three-point attempts but connected on two of their last three to take the lead. Jerome kept Virginia in the game with 13 first half points, hitting 2-of-4 from deep and adding team highs in rebounds (4) and assists (3). The 6-7 McLemore helped Auburn to a six-rebound advantage pulling down six first half boards. The Tigers made all four of their free throw attempts while the Cavaliers were 1-of-3. The teams were even offensively with both making 11 field goals and three three-pointers.
Virginia’s interior defense was an important factor in their win as they blocked nine shots, five from Mamadi Diakite. The Cavaliers held Auburn to 29 percent (9-of-31) three-point shooting, while shooting 37 percent (7-of-19) from deep, helped by 4-of-9 from Jerome. The game was very well played with only 13 combined turnovers in the game (eight by Virginia). The Cavaliers relied on their starters, only receiving two points from their bench in only 17:54 minutes of action. All their starters played at least 34 minutes and that would have been higher were it not for Jerome’s late foul trouble.
The second game between Michigan State and Texas Tech figured to be a defensive tussle with Texas Tech rated the top defense in the country and Michigan State ranked ninth. The Red Raiders scored the last nine points of the game to finish a 61-51 victory over the Spartans. Jarrett Culver (10 points on 3-of-12 shooting) had an off game offensively but came through in the end with seven straight points, hitting a jumper from the top of the key and a three-pointer to propel Texas Tech to the win. Matt Mooney, the Red Raiders graduate transfer from South Dakota, was the best player on the floor, scoring a game-high 22 points while shooting 4-of-8 from deep. Cassius Winston led Michigan State in scoring with 16 points but shot an inefficient 4-of-16, including 2-of-8 on three-pointers.
The Red Raiders Tariq Owens, another graduate transfer from St. John’s, was an impact defensively, blocking three shots and altering others before leaving the game with 14 minutes remaining after suffering an ankle injury. Owens was limited to six second half minutes but Texas Tech pulled through thanks to Mooney and Culver and their top-rated defense. Mooney hit three consecutive three-pointers in a two and a half minute span midway in the second half to give Texas Tech a 48-35 lead. A Culver jumper gave then a 50-38 lead with nine minutes remaining but the Spartans came roaring back. They went on a 13-2 run to cut the deficit to 52-51 with 2:54 left to set the stage for Texas Tech’s late run. The Red Raider defense held Michigan State scoreless the rest of the game as they missed on their last four shots, three of them from deep.
Texas Tech held Michigan State to 31.9 percent (15-of-47) shooting from the field including 30.4 percent (7-of-23) on three-pointers. The Red Raiders shot a respectable 43.1 percent from the field but a similar 30.8 percent (8-of-26) from deep. The Red Raiders forced the Spartans into 11 turnovers, four from Winston while only committing seven.
The first half highlighted each team’s defense with Texas Tech heading into halftime with a 23-21 lead. Both teams were held to 30 percent shooting from the field. Texas Tech’s Owens bottled up the inside, coming up with two blocked shots and altering others. Mooney led the Red Raiders with nine points while Winston and Matt McQuaid both scored nine for the Spartans.