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Ranking the 10 most memorable games of the Tom Izzo era

What an era it’s been.

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Tom Izzo
© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tom Izzo just recorded win No. 700 on Tuesday night against Michigan. Let’s look at 10 of his most memorable moments as MSU head coach.

Tom Izzo just reached 700 wins as the head Michigan State basketball coach on Tuesday against Michigan.

Let’s celebrate by going back down memory lane with some of the wins that got him where he is today.

1. April 3, 2000

You cannot tell the Tom Izzo story without Mateen Cleaves and the Flintstones. So where else to start but the top. MSU concluded an unbelievable season as Big Ten champions and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and rolling through to the title game. You know the names Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell, Jason Richardson.

MSU seemed to be in full control midway through the half when after a fast-break layup Cleaves was crawling off the court holding his ankle in pain and taken to the locker room. The game could have flipped but Bell and Peterson stayed in control and another senior AJ Granger popped off to finish the game with 19 points keeping the Spartans ahead while Cleaves was away. But Mateen was not going to quit either as he came out of the tunnel like a WWE champion returning to the court to end the game dancing around giving Izzo and MSU its “One Shining Moment.”

2. March 27, 2005

After beating No. 1 Duke, No. 5 Michigan State met Rajon Rondo and No. 2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight. The game was back and forth and neither team could take full control and it turned into a marathon. With 19 seconds left, Shannon Brown knocked down two free throws to give MSU a 3-point lead. Patrick Sparks had other plans as MSU could not secure the rebound of two Kentucky attempts and sparks double clutched a three that rolled around the rim for what seemed like forever only to fall and send the game to overtime.

The first overtime could not decide the winner as both teams only scored six points and the game continued. A put-back dunk by freshman Paul Davis gave MSU a five-point lead in the second overtime and the Spartans never gave it back. The Cinderella runs over two blue bloods sent the Spartans to the Final Four.

3. Feb. 20, 2007

A struggling Spartans team welcomed national No. 1 Wisconsin to the Breslin Center. Drew Neitzel was the junior leader of a team with no seniors in its rotation and the game plan on this day was give the ball to No. 11.

This game was the classic Tom Izzo vs. Bo Ryan rock fight, neither team could break apart in this old school low scoring battle. The Breslin Center was rocking dressed in a white out and Neitzel gave them everything to cheer about. Neitzel was on fire 6-for-11 from 3-point land finishing with 28 of MSU’s 64 points. As the Spartans upset the nation’s No. 1 team. I believe is the last time the Breslin court was stormed by the students in the Izzone.

4. April 4, 2009

The 2009 NCAA Tournament was an incredible storybook run for Michigan State basketball with the Final Four in Detroit the Spartans won the Big Ten and earned themselves a 2-seed in the bracket. After taking down Kansas and Louisville the Spartans found themselves back home in the state of Michigan at Ford Field to take on No.1 seeded Connecticut.

Led by Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan, the Spartans found themselves as underdogs. But late in the second half, MSU went on an 8-0 scoring run punctuated by a fast break Durrell Summers dunk over Stanley Robinson electrifying the Ford Field crowd. In the words of Jim Nantz, Ford Field was shaking as the Spartans toppled UConn to advance to the national championship game.

5. March 21, 2010

This season saw Michigan State basketball capture back-to-back regular-season titles as the Spartans looked for another trip to the Final Four. Kalin Lucas was again the star as MSU seemed poised for another postseason run. MSU met then-ACC foe Maryland in the Round of 32.

All was well for the Spartans as they approached halftime in control of the lead, when Lucas came off with an injury that was found to be a full tear of his Achilles. MSU was fired up playing for their leader but without the best player on the floor, Maryland slowly came back and took the lead in the final seconds. Without a timeout the ball was inbounded to Draymond Green and thanks to a ducking Delvon Roe dodging his pass to guard Korie Lucious gave Lucious the shot for a buzzer-beating game-winning 3-pointer, keeping the Spartans’ dreams alive with the shot that sent MSU to the Sweet 16 and all the way to the Final Four

6. March 16, 2014

Michigan State had an interesting season in 2014. A star-studded ultra-talented roster including Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne had the Spartans sitting at preseason No. 2. Unfortunately, injuries had the Tom Izzo and the Spartans without Payne and Dawson for its two biggest games versus the eventual Big Ten regular-season champion Wolverines. MSU finally got healthy in the last week of the season and had the opportunity to get some good old-fashioned revenge on their neighbors down the road in the Big Ten Tournament title game.

MSU came out motivated and on fire Payne and Dawson combined for 33 points and 15 rebounds. MSU closed the half on a 10-0 run closed by a Gary Harris steal and dunk as the first half expired charged MSU to a 15-point lead as the Spartans silenced the doubters and took down the regular-season Big Ten champs in dominant fashion and earning another Big Ten Tournament title.

7. Nov. 17, 2015

The Champions Classic between Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan State has become a staple of the opening week for the college basketball calendar. The Spartans matched up with No.4 Kansas and long-time forward Perry Ellis at the United Center in Chicago. MSU was preseason top-15 after the Final Four run in the prior season and was led by senior guard Denzel Valentine and center Matt Costello.

After a slow first half, the Jayhawks held a 41-35 lead. But fueled by Denzel carrying the team with a 29-point tripledouble, the first since Draymond Green, Michigan State made a run to climb into a lead late in the game. Valentine then kicked the ball out to an open freshman Matt McQuaid who hit a clutch three to defeat Kansas for an incredible start to the year.

8. March 9, 2019

Spartans vs. Wolverines reached its peak as both teams entered the final game of the season tied atop the Big Ten standings. The Breslin center was rocking on Senior Day, but the Spartans came out cold with Michigan taking a six-point lead into the break. Cassius Winston started slow but caught a spark in the second half that charged a 25-4 run that buried Michigan for the second of three wins over the Wolvernes in 2019, clinching a Big Ten title for the second year in a row, and leading to the next game on our list. Winston finished with 23 points and seven assists while Xavier Tillman added 17 points, six rebounds, and five blocks while shutting down Michigan big man Jon Teske

9. March 31, 2019

Michigan State basketball was on a collision course with Duke, the No. 1 seed, led by four first-round NBA draft picks, headlined by Zion Williamson. Of course, it’s Duke it’s always Duke that stands in Izzo’s way, but this time was different. Tom Izzo got his second win over Coach K’s Duke super-team behind the doubledouble by Cassius Winston and a few poster dunks by Xavier Tillman and Matt McQuaid. And a play design that led to former walk-on Kenny Goins’ pop-out 3-pointer that sent all of Spartan Nation into a frenzy, sending the Blue Devils packing and the Spartans to Minnesota and the Final Four.

10. March 7, 2021

With six games left in the season, the Spartans found themselves 10-9 on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament streak that had defined the consistent success of the Tom Izzo tenure. Staring at four top-five teams in the country in the final two weeks. The Aaron Henry-led Spartans did not hear a bell as they turned the season around on a dime. No. 5 Illinois — check.  No. 4 Ohio State — check. But who could be waiting for MSU in the finale? Arch-rival No. 2 Michigan. Aaron Henry (18 points) and Rocket Watts (21 points) who played his best game of the season were not going to let their team go down as the streak breakers as Michigan upset Michigan 70-64 on the last day of the regular season locking in their place in the NCAA Tournament, keeping the streak alive.

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