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No. 2 seed Virginia makes early exit from NCAAs again

Posted: March 22, 2015 3:53 p.m.
Updated: March 22, 2015 3:53 p.m.
Virginia's Mike Tobey sits on the bench in the final moments of the second half of an NCAA tournament game against Michigan State in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert Virginia's Mike Tobey sits on the bench in the final moments of the second half of an NCAA tournament game against Michigan State in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Virginia's Mike Tobey sits on the bench in the final moments of the second half of an NCAA tournament game against Michigan State in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Another stellar regular season ended with an early exit from the NCAA Tournament for the Virginia Cavaliers.

Coach Tony Bennett's team spent the majority of the season ranked in the top five in the nation, only to fail to reach the Sweet 16 after the second-seeded Cavaliers lost 60-54 loss to No. 7 seed Michigan State on Sunday.

It's the second straight year the Spartans have eliminated Virginia from the tournament. They beat the top-seeded Cavaliers in the Sweet 16 in 2014.

Virginia won 30 or more games in each of the last two seasons for the first time in school history, but has only three tournament wins to show for it.

"It just leaves that feeling that you wish you could have taken it further," Bennett said. "But it doesn't take away when all the dust settles what was accomplished, and we give thanks for that. But we can certainly learn from what took place."

Virginia did little to help its own cause.

They struggled against Michigan State's defense and shot 29.8 percent from the field, including 2 of 17 from 3-point range.

The problems started early when Travis Trice scored 13 of his team's first 15 points to give Michigan State a 15-4 lead they would never relinquish.

Trice finished with 23 points lifting Michigan State to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last eight years. Branden Dawson added 15 points and nine rebounds

"It's about getting off to a good start, whether it's being sure-handed with the ball or not having defensive breakdowns," Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon said. "Our defense does lead to our offense but when you're having defensive breakdowns and you can't get stops and you're having trouble seeing the ball through the net, then you're going to struggle, so offensively that's why we struggled a little bit."

With top seed Villanova having lost Saturday, it is the first time a No. 1 and 2 seed from the same region didn't advance to the Sweet 16 since Kentucky and Gonzaga in 2004.

The Cavaliers (30-4) were the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to lose in the tournament after a 9-0 start. Virginia was led by Anthony Gill's 11 points and Darion Atkins' 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo made some defensive tweaks to his game plan after Michigan State's first-round win over Georgia, and the Spartans (25-11) stole a page from last year's regional semifinal win over Virginia.

Izzo said the Spartans "changed what we do" defensively in a day-and-a-half.

Instead of having his guards jump to the ball and give help, Izzo relied more on his big men in the middle to stay disciplined — and not cheat or go for steals — and guard against Virginia's flare screens.

"We're just not as talented as we've been so we are always cheating to find a way to get an edge," Izzo said. "Coaches can tell you what to do, but when muscle memory tells you to do it another way ... your focus has to be incredible. And that was incredible focus if you asked me."

While Trice was beating them up and down the court and making 3s, the Cavaliers opened the game 2 of 10 from the field and could never get on track offensively.

Virginia cut the lead to two to start the second half behind two quick baskets by Justin Anderson. But the Spartans countered with a 12-2 run led by Dawson, who had seven points during the stretch, including a three-point play off a fastbreak dunk.

Down six points, Atkins picked up his fourth foul with 8:36 left on what replays showed to be a clean block on Gavin Schilling, bringing Cavaliers fans to their feet screaming in protest.

Virginia would battle back within five, but Trice knocked down a clutch 28-footer with 1 second left on the shot clock to put the Spartans up 52-44 with 3 minutes to play.

"That was a dagger 3," Bennett said. "It was an NBA 3. ... When you have a guy like Trice making those shots down the stretch that is what makes you advance in this tournament."

It wasn't exactly the play Izzo wanted, but he said sometimes good players improvise.

"It was one of those, 'Oh no... Nice shot,' type of deals," Izzo said.

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