SYRACUSE - For a full year, Travis Trice and the other upperclassmen on Michigan State lived with the sting of sitting in the locker room at Madison Square Garden, having heard the roars of a partisan crowd after they were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by seventh-seeded Connecticut.
Their hurt went all the way to the Bahamas, where recruit Lourawls "Tum Tum'' Nairn texted Trice, telling him that the tears would become "tears of joy'' -- an idea Trice thought was crazy. Yet, sure enough, there he was on the court Sunday, awash in the cheers of a partisan Michigan State crowd after his seventh-seeded Spartans beat Louisville, 76-70, in overtime to reach the Final Four.
He was bawling like a toddler. "Honestly, that's the first time I've ever seen Travis cry,'' Branden Dawson said. "I know how bad he wanted it, for us.''See alsoMarch Madness bonus pay for coaches
Trice, who had a team-high 17 points in a team-high 44 minutes, was a bit upset that his reputation as a stoic was ruined. But what the heck. "I know this is going to sound crazy, but looking back, I'm kind of happy that we did lose last year because it makes us feel so much better to be on the other side of it,'' he said. "It's been motivation. I think it has made us better.''
Michigan State (27-11) could not have been better than it was on defense through much of the second half, holding Louisville (27-9) to three baskets through the first 16:22, all off steals.
It could not have asked for a better finish to the East Regional. Trice, fellow senior Dawson and junior Denzel Valentine (15 points) all came up believing that a trip to the Final Four was a Spartan's birthright. Until last March, no one who played four years for Tom Izzo failed to get there at least once. They didn't want that to happen again.
"It was pretty cool the way the guys felt about it, pretty cool,'' said Izzo, who will be going to his seventh Final Four in 20 years at Michigan State.
Louisville seemed ready to carry Rick Pitino to his eighth. The Cardinals trailed by one with 4.9 seconds left in regulation and Mangok Mathiang had two free throws. His first was too long but clanged high off the back rim and went in. "I was positive we were going to win . . . because it shouldn't have gone in,'' Pitino said. Mathiang missed the second and Trice missed from midcourt at the buzzer.
Michigan State secured its ticket to Indianapolis with 45.3 seconds left in OT. Dawson saw hot-handed Bryn Forbes (14 points) open in the corner and fed him. Forbes missed. "The ball went up and I just got it. I thought [Mathiang] was going to block it,'' Dawson said, "but I just tipped it in.''
That gave the Spartans a 74-70 lead and added to Trice's unforgettable weekend.
Trice said he actually was more nervous Saturday night while watching play-by-play text scrolls of the Ohio state high school title game. Huber Heights Wayne, coached by Travis Trice Sr. with young D'Mitrik Trice in the backcourt, won. "This,'' Travis Trice said, "has been the proudest weekend of my life.''
His family believes he has much to be proud of, notably his recovery from a brain infection two years ago. His mom, Julie, said it taught him to take every moment seriously because tomorrow isn't guaranteed.
Next week is assured now for Michigan State. So Trice let his emotions roll.
"It was amazing,'' Julie said. "You don't ever want to see your baby cry. But with this, it was just, 'Let it go, baby, let it go.' ''