Michigan State pummels LSU to advance to Elite Eight

The game was all but over before LSU even scored. Before fans in the nation’s capital could even get settle into their seats. Before commentators could discuss suspensions or tirade controversies. And before we were quite sure just how scorching Michigan State would be on Friday night.

The second-seeded Spartans started hot, stayed hot, and romped over No. 3 seed LSU in the Sweet 16, 80-63. They looked rested and refreshed. They played their best game of the NCAA tournament, and looked like a real threat to play a few more.

From the opening tip, Michigan State executed at a level that LSU couldn’t match. Not consistently over 40 minutes, anyway. Sparty’s defense made the Tigers uncomfortable. Its offense was incisive.

It cut through LSU early with pace-pushing outlets and head fakes, ball fakes and extra passes. Less than two minutes in, Matt McQuaid threw his hands up in the air, three fingers extended on each, before Cassius Winston even elevated for a deep bomb that gave Michigan State an 8-0 lead.

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March Madness: The best photos from the Sweet 16
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March Madness: The best photos from the Sweet 16
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 28: Tariq Owens #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrates after a dunk against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 28, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 28: Carsen Edwards #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers goes up for a layup against Admiral Schofield #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during overtime of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at the KFC YUM! Center on March 28, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 28: Mamadi Diakite #25 of the Virginia Cavaliers gets in a scuffle with Ehab Amin #4 of the Oregon Ducks during the second half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at the KFC YUM! Center on March 28, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 28: Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs dunks the ball against Mfiondu Kabengele #25 of the Florida State Seminoles during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 28, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Purdue center Matt Haarms celebrates during overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game against Tennessee Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Purdue won 99-94. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, left, and guard Jordan Poole leave the court after the team's loss to Texas Tech during an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Texas Tech forward Deshawn Corprew, middle, reaches for a loose ball between Michigan guard Zavier Simpson, left, and guard Charles Matthews during the first half an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Florida State guard Trent Forrest, left, blocks a shot by Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. during the second half an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Purdue's Ryan Cline (14) and Carsen Edwards celebrate after defeating Tennessee 99-94 in overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman (23) beats out LSU forward Darius Days (22) for the loose ball during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Friday, March 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Auburn's Chuma Okeke yells out in pain after being injured during the second half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
North Carolina's Seventh Woods, left, and Kenny Williams pause near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against Auburn Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Michigan State forward Gabe Brown (13) and teammates react after he scored against LSU guard Marlon Taylor (14) during the second half of a semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Auburn's Anfernee McLemore celebrates at the end of the first half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Auburn's Chuma Okeke (5) grabs his leg as he loses control of the ball on his way to the basket as North Carolina's Cameron Johnson (13) and North Carolina's Brandon Robinson, left, defend during the second half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Okeke was injured on the play. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Auburn's Danjel Purifoy (3) and Austin Wiley (50) celebrate near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts after missing a layup against the Duke Blue Devils late in the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts after missing a layup against the Duke Blue Devils late in the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Anfernee McLemore #24 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Brandon Robinson #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after being defeated by the Auburn Tigers 97-80 during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Brandon Robinson #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts against the Auburn Tigers during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Duke guard Tre Jones (3) reacts after scoring against Virginia Tech during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Kentucky's Immanuel Quickley celebrates as time expires in a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against Houston Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Virginia Tech guard Ahmed Hill (13) celebrates after scoring, next to Duke forward Zion Williamson (1) during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Auburn's Danjel Purifoy (3) and Austin Wiley (50) celebrate near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Houston's Galen Robinson Jr. (25) walks off the court as Kentucky celebrates in the background following a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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LSU never did more than cut that lead in half. The favored Spartans stretched it to 17 on multiple occasions in the first half. LSU slashed it to four with an early-second-half run, but an 11-0 Spartans spurt in less than two minutes pushed it back to 15 and put the game away.

There were two reasons for their dominance: Offensive rebounding and outside shooting. The latter came from unlikely sources. Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown – both average 3-point shooters – went 6-of-10 from deep. Michigan State shot 40.6 percent as a team.

Henry also had five of the team’s 10 first-half offensive rebounds – 59 percent of its own misses.

Michigan State won physical battles, but its dominance was systematic. LSU had the athletes to match it, but not the scheme and smarts. Winston ran the show, dictating the game, and so often sending LSU’s defense into scramble mode. He made Sparty’s offense press-proof. With the Tigers constantly rotating, Michigan State found wide-open shooters. And with the Tigers frantically recovering to those shooters, they were vulnerable on the boards.

Tremont Waters was the only one who could hang with the Spartans, and the only reason LSU was even peripherally in the game. He had 23 points. The 5-foot-11 sophomore led the charge at the start of the second half, scoring seven in a row and undoing much of Michigan State’s first-half superiority.

But when the Spartans responded with the run of their own, their overall superiority was clear. LSU never got any closer than within nine thereafter.

Michigan State will move on to play either Duke or Virginia Tech on Sunday. And if it plays like it did Friday, it will be tough to beat.

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