MINNEAPOLIS — For those who thought Texas Tech only plays defense, it’s time to meet Matt Mooney.
The graduate transfer shooting guard matched his season high with 22 points, hitting three 3-pointers over the span of three minutes midway through the second half, and the Red Raiders beat Michigan State 61-51 on Saturday.
As a result, Texas Tech and its vagabond coach, Chris Beard, will play in Monday’s final against Virginia.
“He told us we had enough to play in the final, and maybe coach is psychic,” Mooney said. “He must be psychic because here we are.”
Mooney’s first two shots in the stretch capped a 5-for-5 hot streak by Texas Tech (31-6) that stood as the game’s only true blast of offense.
The rest of the game was a defensive slog, filled with air balls, blocked shots and clogged-up passing lanes. It was, to put it Texas Tech’s way, perfectly ugly.
Michigan State (32-7) leaves coach Tom Izzo’s eighth Final Four with its seventh loss — the 2000 title is still the only time the Spartans have taken it all the way under their coach.
Photo: James Durbin / Midland Reporter-Telegram
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But they did not go away easily.
After Mooney’s 3-pointers helped Texas Tech build a 13-point lead, the Spartans trimmed their deficit to three. Matt McQuaid had a wide-open look from the corner — one of the very few on this night — to tie with 1:50 left, but the ball rimmed out and the Red Raiders pulled away.
Jarrett Culver (10 points, five boards) made one free throw on the next trip down, then Norense Odiase swiped the ball from Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman — one of Tech’s four steals on the night — and the Red Raiders worked the ball to Culver, who made his only 3 to push the lead to 58-51 and start the celebration.
The defense that led the nation in efficiency and held teams to under 37 percent shooting — second best in the county — held Michigan State to 31.9 percent from the floor.
Most tellingly, it stymied Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston. Yes, he led the Spartans with 16 points, but it came on 4-for-16 shooting, and he didn’t score his first second-half points until more than 10 minutes had elapsed — long after Mooney put this game out of reach.
Mooney is the fifth-year senior who made his way to Texas Tech after graduating from South Dakota — the school he transferred to after a rough year at Air Force.
Beard is on his 12th stop in a travelogue of a career — and he’s been recruiting grinders like him to help him take this most-unexpected ride.
Culver wasn’t in the top 300 among high school recruits, and chose his hometown college over a few other places.
Culver had one block and rim protector Tariq Owens, also a graduate transfer, had three more before leaving late in the second half because of a leg injury.
Owens came jogging back in toward the end to the cheers of the Texas Tech crowd, which included alum Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback.
“Pretty cool to have the MVP of the NFL on our side, cheering for us,” Mooney said.
Eddie Pells is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/collegesports/article/Texas-Tech-stifles-Michigan-State-to-advance-to-13747746.php.