Michigan State entered Sunday's regular-season finale in unfamiliar territory — squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
It left in much better shape — with a win No. 2 Michigan and a likely at-large bid to the NCAA tournament secured.
Facing the Wolverines for the second of a back-to-back set against their rivals, the Spartans held a 61-59 lead with less than a minute remaining in Sunday's game. With the game in the balance, Aaron Henry found Joshua Langford on the wing in a half-court set. The senior guard didn't hesitate.
Big 3 from senior Langford
With Michigan's Chaundee Brown Jr. closing in to contest, Langford pulled up and sunk a 3-pointer to give Michigan State a five-point lead with 48.9 seconds remaining in the 70-64 Michigan State win.
Langford finished with just seven points in what could be his final game at the Breslin Center (seniors are granted an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19). But he hit few bigger shots during his Spartans career than that one.
Sunday's win was Michigan State's third over a top-five team in its final six games. It should be enough to bump the Spartans off the bubble and into the NCAA tournament. They celebrated in the locker room as if they'd secured a bid.
Spartans finish strong against brutal season-ending schedule
Just two weeks ago, the Spartans looked destined to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997, Tom Izzo's second season as head coach. But they faced an opportunity to boost their resume with four games against top-five teams in their final six.
They beat No. 5 Illinois, 81-72 on Feb. 23 and followed that up with a 71-67 win over No. 4 Ohio State two days later. Thanks to COVID-19 scheduling quirks, they faced No. 2 Michigan in the final two games of the season.
A 69-50 loss to the Wolverines on Thursday left the Spartans' NCAA hopes still in peril. But Sunday's win will likely have them breathing easy on Selection Sunday, regardless of what happens in next week's Big Ten tournament.
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