INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Michigan State coaching wizard Tom Izzo finally encountered a problem he couldn't solve.
Bogged down with key players on the bench all night, the Spartans failed to find an offensive rhythm in a 52-50 loss to Butler on Saturday in the Final Four. The Bulldogs outscored Michigan State 17-10 at the free throw line to advance to the national championship game Monday night.
Izzo was coaching in his sixth national semifinal in 12 years, and it was easy to see why. He had dealt with injuries to key players and disciplinary issues throughout the season, but his team still fought its way to Indianapolis. The Spartans were playing in front of a hostile crowd a short drive from the opponent's campus, and fouls were piling up. But somehow, Izzo's Spartans were on the brink of victory.
"We played with some of the most bizarre lineups we've played all year, and yet, put ourselves in a position where I thought at the end we had a chance to take a shot and win a game," Izzo said. "This team played about as hard under the circumstances we were put in as any team I've ever coached.
"I'm proud of my team. And, I'm a little bit ticked off."
All those calls hindered the Spartans and negated their typically aggressive style.
Raymar Morgan, Michigan State's second-leading scorer, played 23 minutes -- including just eight in the first half -- and finished with four points and four fouls.
"It's disappointing," the senior captain said. "My teammates did a great job of trying to pick me up. Their effort was unbelievable, to be able to stay in the game and have a chance to win."
After getting whistled for a foul in the second half, guard Korie Lucious simply raised his arms in frustration. Morgan committed his fourth with 12:38 to play and Delvon Roe did the same with 2:23 remaining. Draymond Green fouled out with 6.1 seconds left.
"It affected us a lot," Roe said. "That was probably the biggest problem with our game today, is that we just couldn't get into a rhythm because we had too many people in foul trouble. When you've got so many people in foul trouble, you can't play as aggressively as you would like to on defense and even on offense. You're scared to shove a guy or make a move, because you're afraid to make a foul."
The fact that Izzo got Michigan State so far was surprising, considering all the Spartans went through this season.
Izzo kicked point guard Kalin Lucas, a two-time all-Big Ten player, out of one practice. The coach also suspended Chris Allen during the Big Ten tournament and Lucious for a game at Penn State.
There were major injuries, too. Lucas was knocked out of the NCAA tournament with a ruptured Achilles' tendon in his left foot during the second-round win over Maryland. Allen sprained an arch in his foot in the first round against New Mexico State. Roe has played most of the season with an injured knee that will require surgery in the offseason.
If that wasn't enough, it was clear who the largely blue-clad crowd's favorite was on Saturday. In the same stadium where the Indianapolis Colts won the AFC championship two months earlier, it sounded as though the Colts had just scored a touchdown when Butler stepped onto the court.
But the Spartans had overcome challenges before.
Michigan State lost four of seven games during Big Ten play before rebounding to win seven of eight heading into this one. After losing to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, the Spartans won their first four NCAA tournament games by a combined 13 points, the lowest total for a Final Four team since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
But after pulling out a string of close games to get to Indianapolis, the Spartans couldn't do it again -- and all those fouls were a big reason why.
It was tough for Lucas to watch.
"It was kind of helpless, just because I wasn't out there playing," he said. "I wanted to get out there with my teammates and fight with them. I couldn't, but at the same time, my teammates, they fought. They did fight."
With much of the team back next season, Hall of Fame alum Magic Johnson thinks the Spartans have a bright future.
"It's disappointing because it's the Final Four, but I'm still happy for them," he said. "We can build on it for next season. We had our shot, we just couldn't get it done."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)