The magical season of Texas Tech will continue for at least one game.
The underdog Red Raiders charged into Monday’s national championship game for the first time in school history after a 61-51 triumph over Michigan State Saturday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
It was their third straight upset victory as Matt Mooney matched his season high with 22 points.
Michigan State had pulled within 52-51 on Aaron Henry’s hoop with 2:55 left. But Big 12 Player of the Year Jarrett Culver, who had struggled most of the game, scored six straight points to help ice the victory for the Red Raiders (31-6).
Tech finished the game on a 9-0 run.
Michigan State (32-7) was led by All-American guard Cassius Winston, who scored 16.
It wasn’t always pretty. The game was a grinding defensive battle where neither team scored a field goal for a period of almost 5 minutes late in the first half. Tech shot 30.8 percent in the first half, Michigan State 30.4 percent.
Michigan State was limited without a field goal for 6 minutes, 34 seconds late in the first half before Winston hit a 3-pointer with 1:09 left before the break. That shot pulled them within 23-21 at the break in the lowest scoring first half in an NCAA Final Four game since Wisconsin and Michigan State in 2001.
Culver doesn’t get his first field goal until 9 minutes left in the game. He was limited to 10 points.
Mooney scored a game-high nine points to lead the Red Raiders. But Culver, the Big 12’s Player of the Year, was limited to one point, missing all six shots from the field.
MSU held without a hoop for 4½ minutes in the first half. But their 10-3 stretch put Tech in its biggest deficit of the tournament at 16-11
Tech’s defense took a hit inside when Tariq Owens twisted his ankle with 14:43 left in the game. He returned for about 45 seconds of game action during the rest of the game.
Kyler Edwards’ three-point play with 13:06 left pushed it to 39-31. Mooney then hit three straight 3-pointers — Tech hit 9 baskets in 11 shots during that stretch – to boost the Red Raiders to their largest lead at 48-35 with 9:41 left.
The Spartans were making their eighth Final Four trip under Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo.
Tech coach Chris Beard has famously given up beer, candy and desserts since the opening day of preseason practice back in October. He’s close to feeding those vices early next week and he might be able to do it while wearing his first national championship ring.
It continues a magical run for the Red Raiders, who were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 before the season. But with a rotation including a former junior college player Beard plucked out of junior college, three transfers and a Lubbock native who was ranked in the 300s coming out of high school but who has developed into a likely NBA lottery pick.
Texas Tech ranks third in scoring defense, allowing an average of 59 points, and No. 2 nationally in defensive field-goal percentage. The Red Raiders were on point against the Spartans.
They will hook up against Virginia (34-3) in Monday’s National Championship game. The Cavaliers advanced to the first national championship game in school history with a controversial 63-62 triumph over Auburn in Saturday’s first game.
The Red Raiders will attempt to become the first team from Texas to play for the national championship since Houston lost to Georgetown in 1984.
Tech will be gunning for only the second national men’s championship in the 80-season history of the tournament. The only Texas school to win a title was Texas-El Paso, then Texas Western University, in 1966.