Aaron Henry, No. 2 Michigan State Crush Tremont Waters, No. 3 LSU in Sweet 16

Aaron Henry, No. 2 Michigan State Crush Tremont Waters, No. 3 LSU in Sweet 16
Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman (23) turns to looks at teammates Nick Ward (44) and Aaron Henry (11) after scoring against LSU during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Last week, Tom Izzo was under a wave of criticism after some viewed his incensed screaming at Aaron Henry as a microcosm of everything wrong with college basketball.

On Friday, Henry’s brilliance helped send Izzo to his 10th Elite Eight. 

Henry scored a career-high 20 points and Cassius Winston added 17, as second-seeded Michigan State earned a 80-63 victory over third-seeded LSU in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup.

The Spartans will move on to play the winner of Duke-Virginia Tech on Sunday.

After three straight years of disappointing March exits, Izzo has his Spartans in a position to make their first Final Four since 2015. None of the players on the Michigan State roster had ever made it past the second round.

The Spartans showed no sign of their second-weekend inexperience, opening the game on an 8-0 run and never trailing. Henry, the freshman who was at the receiving end of an Izzo outburst during Michigan State’s first-round matchup, scored 13 of his 20 points in the first half.

“I’m sure there have been times that, if I had to rewind something, I’d find a different way to do it,” Izzo told reporters. “But in the heat of the moment, a 30-second timeout, I’m not going to let one incident, one snippet, determine two years of a relationship with somebody.

“I don’t think many people can understand. I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, in business you couldn’t do this.’ No, because it’s adults to adults. We’re still talking adults to players, just like my own kid, who is an 18-year-old.”

Henry averaged 5.6 points per game coming into Thursday and had only hit double digits twice all season. His well-timed outburst saw him flash a brilliant all-around game, as Henry finished with eight rebounds and six assists. 

Michigan State lived beyond the arc, knocking down 13 threes and taking advantage of lapses in the LSU defense. The Spartans hit just 11 in their first two tournament games total

LSU opened the second half with a 7-0 run and cut the lead to as few as four points in the second half but were never able to complete the comeback. Every time the Tigers would gain some semblance of momentum, Michigan State came back with another dagger three, and soon a two-possession game stretched back out to double figures.

Tremont Waters scored a team-high 23 points for the Tigers. Kavell Bigby-Williams added 11 points, as LSU had the polar opposite shooting experience from Michigan State, hitting just six of 21 from beyond the arc.

Given the circumstances around the team, LSU has to leave the Big Dance feeling like its Sweet 16 run was a success. Will Wade’s suspension was a massive cloud hanging over the team coming into the tournament, to the point 14-seeded Yale was a trendy first-round upset pick. The Tigers managed to not only escape that matchup but defeat sixth-seeded Maryland to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.

Michigan State, meanwhile, could wind up facing Duke in the tournament for the first time since the 2015 national semifinal. The Blue Devils have defeated the Spartans in three of their four tournament matchups since Tom Izzo took over as Michigan State coach. 

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