Gators Roll, Spartans Survive Out West

Florida ended one team's Cinderella story, while Michigan State barely survived another.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

Saint Louis may not be considered a 'Cinderella' at a No. nine seed, but I can guarantee you they would have been wearing a special pair of slippers if they took down Michigan State on Sunday. They almost did.

In a 90-minute back-and-forth battle between the two schools, it was finally the Spartans that pulled away, defeating the Billikens 65-61 to move on to face No. 4 Louisville in the Sweet 16.

Draymond Green led the way again for the Spartans, but it was the clutch three-pointer from his teammate Keith Appling that sealed the deal for the No. one Spartans. In fact, it was Green who told Appling to 'be ready,' during a late timeout. With 1:34 left on the clock, Appling delivered.

"All night they pretty much had me begging to shoot the ball," Appling said. "We got in the huddle in one of our timeouts and Draymond told me I was a 41 percent 3-point shooter last year, so shoot the ball. We drew up a play for him, and the defense collapsed and I was wide open, he hit me with a pass that was perfect, right in my shooter's pocket, and I was able to knock it down."As soon as it came off of my hands, it felt good. And once I seen it go through the hoop, I was all smiles."

Green had 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to go with Appling's 19 points.

Kwamain Mitchel had 13 points and Brian Conklin had 11 for Saint Louis. The Billikens were in the tournament for the first time since 2000. The Rick Majerus led team obviously gave the Spartans a tough run on Sunday and were emotional following their extremely hard-fought effort.

"We made them earn every shot that they took," said Conklin, who addressed the media in tears after the game. "The game plan worked to perfection. The guy that we wanted to make shots, he hit a couple. And that's the difference in the game, four points, but that was the whole game plan…I said it was going to be a war — dirty basketball."

Spartans head coach Tom Izzo stated, "That was one of the tougher games we've played in…but you've got to give our guys credit, too. We didn't pretend to be God's gift to basketball. We know we're a working man's group. And we had to work today."

On the bottom half of the West bracket, it was all Florida, who chewed up Norfolk State 84-50.

No. 15 seed Norfolk State became only the fifth team in NCAA tournament history to defeat a No. 2 seed on Friday when they beat Mizzou. Their 'Cinderella' story struck midnight at tip-off against the Gators.

Kenny Boynton dropped 20 for the Gators in a game that was never close. Florida went on a 25-0 run at one point in the first half.

"There are certain guys who want this kind of stage," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "In this tournament you have to have players who play fearlessly on both ends of the floor and are not worried about making mistakes and are competitive and are driven to want to be great."

The Gators will advance to play No. three Marquette on Thursday.