March 20, 2005
By JIMMY GOLEN
AP Sports Writer
WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - Michigan State is coming out from the shadows.
Maurice Ager scored 19 points and Paul Davis had 11 points and 14 rebounds on Sunday to lead the Spartans to a 72-61 victory over Vermont in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The win sends Michigan State to the Austin Regional semifinals and the Catamounts back to the state that never expected them to get this far.
Largely ignored during the Big Ten season while Illinois took over the top of the national rankings, Michigan State (24-6) found itself the sentimental second choice again in Worcester when the 13th-seeded Catamounts (25-7) beat Syracuse - the first NCAA win in Vermont history.
The crowd was heavily tilted toward Vermont, and outgoing coach Tom Brennan's sense of humor won over many of the rest. But star Taylor Coppenrath went into a shooting slump - making 5-of-23 shots - and Michigan State proved too fast in transition for the America East champions.
That gave Michigan State coach Tom Izzo a record of 21-6 in the tournament - a winning percentage second among active coaches to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski - and set the Spartans up for a possible matchup with the Blue Devils in Austin. Duke played Mississippi State later Sunday.
Coppenrath, a three-time America East player of the year, had 16 points and 14 rebounds, but 10 of the boards were on offense and many of those came on his own misses. He leaves as Vermont's second-leading scorer.
T.J. Sorrentine, who won the conference's top award the other year, scored 26 points but made just 6 of 15 shots from 3-point range; he topped the 2,000-point mark in the game and is the third most prolific scorer in school history. Germain Mopa Njila - who averaged six points but had 20 in the first-round victory - did not score on Sunday.
The Spartans advance to the round of 16 along with Big Ten rival Illinois, which won its first 29 games en route to a 33-1 record and a conference title. Michigan State finished second, going 13-2 in the regular season.
The Spartans lost to Iowa in the first round of the conference tournament when Alan Anderson, the league's top free throw shooter, missed two with 7 seconds left and a chance to tie the game. Michigan State's seniors, who inherited a program that had won four consecutive Big Ten titles and a national championship, did not win the conference even once.
But they still have a chance to make up for that.
Sorrentine hit consecutive 3-pointers to give Vermont a 6-2 lead and then scored the Cats' last 10 points of the first half, but he could have used some help.
Sorrentine's layup gave Vermont a 28-27 lead with 2:57 left in the half, then Michigan State went on an 8-0 run before the break; Davis made the first basket of the second half to make it 10 in a row and give the Spartans a 37-28 lead.
Michigan State led by as many as 14 points, and Vermont made its last best run to cut it to 62-53 on Sorrentine's 3-pointer with 4:39 left. But Davis made a jumper and then Drew Naymick dunked to extend the lead to double digits; by the time Vermont closed within 10 again, there were just 73 seconds left.
After Coppenrath missed three times under the basket with 30 seconds left, Davis grabbed the rebound and Michigan State dribbled out the clock. Even before the buzzer, the teams shook hands on the court and the Vermont players hugged on the bench.
Brennan, who has said he is retiring after leading the school to its only three NCAA berths, shook hands with the Spartans players and coaches and walked right off the court to the locker room. Coppenrath gave a final, exhausted wave to the Vermont fans, who were still cheering "U-V-M!" and "Thank you, Tom!" long after the game was over.