State's seniors struggled, but still should be proud

ST. LOUIS -- Michigan State's seniors made it here. The often-maligned group can always say that they were in the Final Four.

But the Spartans weren't going to beat North Carolina without the seniors producing. They didn't ... and they didn't.

Alan Anderson, who apparently had been bothered by a knee injury throughout the week, played 20 minutes and didn't score, missing all four of his shots. Chris Hill was 1-of-6 overall (1-of-5 on 3s) and finished with just three points in 18 minutes. Kelvin Torbert had to shoot more in the second half with the Spartans trailing. He finished 4-of-11 overall (1-of-4 on 3s) for nine points in 26 minutes.

Coach Tom Izzo wouldn't say it publicly, but it was hard not to be disappointed in the seniors on their final night. They were winners last week, beating Duke and Kentucky on consecutive nights just to get here. That was a significant accomplishment, but on Saturday night they weren't able to finish the deal.

Izzo said after the game that he thought the Spartans had a legit chance to beat North Carolina. Not having much out of Anderson made the task extremely difficult.

"It's tough to end on this note," Anderson said. "Coach kept telling me that they needed me and they couldn't do it without me. When one of your best players doesn't perform to his best, then it's tough to win."

Instead, Michigan State will have to settle for being remembered for getting here when few thought it was possible.

The Spartans' best non-conference wins were over UCLA and Stanford very early in the season. They chased Illinois for awhile in the Big Ten, but collapsed at Wisconsin and then fell to the Illini at home. They were bounced out early in the Big Ten tournament by Iowa, too.

But Izzo told his team that they had a real shot to get to the Final Four. They were the cute upset pick in the 12 vs. 5 matchup against Old Dominion. They had to go against one of the storylines of the first weekend when they played Vermont in the second round in Worcester, Mass. And then they weren't expected to get by Duke and Kentucky in the same weekend in Austin.

But they did. They even survived a classic game-tying 3-pointer by Kentucky's Patrick Sparks that will live in Kentucky lore, even though it didn't end up being a winner. Michigan State toughed out the overtime periods to beat the Wildcats and set up the matchup with North Carolina.

The Spartans fell short against the Heels, but Izzo still did one of his finest coaching jobs of his career.

"This team had a great year," Izzo said. "We played well in our conference and those seniors didn't deserve the abuse they took ... and yet they fell a little short when some opportunities were there and they fell short during the season when some opportunities were there.

"I'm proud of what they did. I'm happy for them. They've got something they left behind. That's important for the senior class, but in some way I hope they weren't satisfied. This was more positive than negative, though."

It should be. The Spartans' seniors got to their Final Four, the first one in their four years, ending their careers the way they wanted, even if they were one game short of playing for a national title.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.