Austin, Texas With one high-flying display of muscle and moxie, Maurice Ager and the Michigan State Spartans put the exclamation point on their bruising run through the NCAA Tournament.
Taking a pass from Alan Anderson on a fast break in the second half, Ager took one step and leaped high over Duke's J.J. Redick before hammering down a spectacular tomahawk dunk. He then pounded his chest with his fist.
The jam and Ager's emotional outburst were indicative of the Spartans' rugged 78-68 victory over the top-seeded Blue Devils on Friday night in the Austin Regional. The fifth-seeded Spartans (25-6) moved within a game of the Final Four and finally gave coach Tom Izzo his first victory over Duke and Coach K.
"I reminded our guys no Michigan State team in the modern era has ever beaten Duke," Izzo said.
He was 0-4 against the Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski, including a loss in the 1999 Final Four, the year before the Spartans won the national title.
"I didn't give them a Knute Rockne speech," Izzo said. "I just told them to give me 40 intense minutes."
Intense indeed, and it was the Spartans' depth and strength that made it a miserable night for Redick and the Blue Devils (27-6).
Paul Davis had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Anderson scored 17, and the Spartans sent wave after wave of defenders out to the perimeter to bottle up Redick, holding the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year to 13 points.
Davis provided the muscle in the middle. His late three-point play fouled out Blue Devils forward Shelden Williams with the outcome still in doubt.
"They have a big force in the middle in Shelden Williams, but we felt like we had a big force in the middle, too," Anderson said. "From the opening tip to the end, he was aggressive."
The loss ended Krzyzewski's bid for an 11th Final Four.
Like most of their season, the Blue Devils had their "Big Three" of Redick, Williams and Daniel Ewing, but little else when it counted against the Spartans, who substituted early and often in an effort to wear them down.
Williams scored 19 points, but the tenacious Spartans defense forced 22 Duke turnovers and gave up little ground in the middle in the second half.
"They took away our vision, and we didn't see open players," Krzyzewski said. "It was like rushing the quarterback. With pressure you can't see your receiver."
The football analogy was appropriate considering the physical style the Spartans played. Michigan State outrebounded Duke 16-9 on the offensive glass and 38-33 overall.
Redick had the toughest night with another sub-par NCAA Tournament game as he struggled just to get off a shot.
He didn't take his first attempt until hitting a 10-footer with 10:17 left in the first half. By late in the half, he was shaking his head at the officials.
"J.J. was open, we just didn't see him," Krzyzewski said. Redick was just two of six from the field in the first half.
"We've been in a lot of games like tonight, but we haven't had many with 22 turnovers," Redick said. "We weren't very strong with the ball."
Redick hit three three-pointers, but the 94 percent free-throw shooter got to the line just twice.
Williams had to pick up the slack, and the muscular forward pounded his way inside for 13 points as the teams went into halftime tied at 32.
The Spartans grabbed their first lead with an 8-0 run early in the second half. Anderson hit Michigan State's first three-pointer, and Shannon Brown followed it with a layup and another three-pointer from the left wing that made it 40-36 and forced Duke to call a timeout.
Anderson hit two more shots, and the Spartans appeared to have grabbed complete control when Ager soared over Redick for the dunk, then pounded his chest with his fist.
"We were so pumped up that it was hard to tell if there was a turning point," said Ager, one of the Spartans who pestered Redick all game. "We really just want to get after them and wear them out."
Redick immediately answered the dunk with a three-pointer from the top of the key and hit another that pulled Duke to 56-50 with 8:40 to play.
That's when the pace really picked up.
Duke appeared to pull within two when Williams grabbed the rebound off Redick's missed three-pointer and went up for a two-handed dunk over Davis. But the ball spun and never dropped all the way through when Williams grabbed the rim. The officials ruled it offensive interference and disallowed the basket.
Duke cut it to 66-63 when Ewing stripped the ball from Anderson and pulled up for a three-pointer, but Williams fouled out 20 seconds later and Davis converted the three-point play.
Trying to make a play on the other end, Redick dribbled into the lane and fired a pass between Ewing and Sean Dockery. Neither made a move to get it, and the ball sailed out of bounds.
The Spartans then sealed it with free throws, hitting six of six over the final minute to stretch the lead.
"This was a game you just didn't get tired in," Davis said. "We just tried to wear them down. We did what we wanted to do."