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Virginia’s season was special regardless of when they lost in the NCAA tournament

Mar 29, 2014, 5:32 AM EST

Travis Trice Travis Trice

NEW YORK — Virginia had a phenomenal season, and there is simply no way to go about arguing that fact.

Standard college hoops ideology will tell you differently. The No. 1 seed Cavaliers lost to No. 4 Michigan State in the semifinals of the East Region, 61-59, and the given the way that we look at tournament departures in this event, the bottom line is going to be that Tom Izzo and the Spartans pulled off the upset against Virginia, the top-seeded team in the East Region.

It will be discussed at length on Sportscenter. The myriad of radio interviews that national writers have lined up for the mid-Atlantic stations on Saturday and Sunday morning will undoubtedly be centered on the fact that the dual-ACC champs were unable to get past the Sweet 16 in their first season as a contender under Tony Bennett.

It’s a fair discussion to have. When you get knocked out of the tournament in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed, people are always going to have questions to ask.

But that doesn’t mean that the questions are always going to be fair, and it does mean that any lingering doubts that the good folks of Charlottesville, VA, are going to be validated in their frustration with yet another disappointing finish to a successful season.

Because, when it comes down to it, the difference between Virginia winning an advancing to the Elite 8 and Virginia losing in the Sweet 16 came down to a pair of three pointers.

Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris led the way for the Cavs with 17 points, but it was a missed three from Harris midway through the second half that ended up being the difference maker.

With 10:39 left in the game, Harris got a wide-open look from the right wing that would have put Virginia up 43-36 at a time when the Spartans had managed just 13 points in the previous 18 minutes of basketball. That three wouldn’t have been a dagger, but it would have been a momentum-changer, the kind of basket that could simply take the wind out of Michigan State’s sails.

Instead, the miss sparked a 15-4 Spartan run, with five layups or dunks sandwiching a three-pointer from Travis Trice. Payne and Dawson were responsible for ten of the 15 points Virginia would make a run of their own, tying the game on a three from Justin Anderson with less than two minutes left, but once again it was Payne and Dawson coming up big. Payne hit a three to give the Spartans a 54-51 lead, and on the ensuing possession he threw a lob to Dawson that game Michigan State a five-point lead in the final minute.

That was the difference.

Those two three-pointers.

Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s the fact that Michigan State’s guards are just that much more equipped for handling the moment. Maybe it’s simply the fact that the Spartans dug too deep of a hole. The bottom-line is that Michigan State advanced and Iowa State didn’t.

And while it’s fair to be upset about the result, it’s difficult to quibble with the fact that the Spartans were simply better prepared for the weekend.

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