INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- While Mateen Cleaves limped, Morris Peterson sprinted toward the finish line. Awaiting Michigan State when it broke the ribbon was the national championship.
The Spartans won the second NCAA title in school history with an 89-76 victory over Florida in front of 43,116 at the RCA Dome.
After watching his point guard and boyhood friend leave the court with an ankle injury nearly four minutes into the second half, Peterson took over and propelled Michigan State to the prize for which it worked three years to attain.
"This is more overwhelming than I thought it would be, if you want the truth," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Peterson made three 3-pointers and scored 15 points in the final 11:11 as the Spartans, playing before their biggest legend -- Magic Johnson -- captured the crown for the first time since 1979.
Michigan State lost to Duke in the Final Four a year ago but completed a journey that was three years in the making.
"This is exactly what we wanted starting in October," said Spartans center Andre Hutson. "Not only did we want, but also coach wanted this. He was in our face all game and that gives us a lot of intensity. We were focused all year and tonight, and that is due to coach Izzo." Led by Flint, Michigan natives Cleaves and Peterson, the Spartans (32-7) have won three straight Big Ten Conference regular-season titles, two consecutive league tournament crowns and now the national championship.
In 1979, the Johnson-led Spartans won one of college basketball's most memorable games by beating Indiana State and Larry Bird for the championship.
"Now we're like Duke, we're like North Carolina, where we'll be back in the hunt each and every year," said Johnson.
Tonight, Michigan State picked apart Florida's vaunted pressure defense and was in control after a 7-0 run opened a 33-20 lead with just under seven minutes to play in the first half.
Cleaves scored 18 points and was on the verge of posting one of the best performances in recent championship game history until twisting his right ankle with 16:18 to play and the Spartans leading, 50-44.
When he returned, Michigan State held a 58-50 advantage and Peterson was moments away from turning the game into a rout.
"Oh my God, this is what I came back for," said Cleaves, who bypassed the NBA draft to return for his senior season. "This was a total group effort this year." A 6-7, 215-pound forward, Peterson delivered his third stirring performance of the NCAA Tournament. He drilled three shots from beyond the arc and added a three-point play -- all in a 2:27 span -- as the Spartans opened a 76-60 bulge with 6:33 left.
In the second half of earlier tournament games against Syracuse and Wisconsin, Peterson flashed his entire offensive arsenal as Michigan State several times avoided an early exit.
"I don't know what it is," Peterson said of his second-half performances. "I guess it's just a sense of urgency. I wanted to win. I don't know what it is." Cleaves also had four assists and only two turnovers and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. He was joined on the all-tournament squad by teammates Peterson, A.J. Granger and Charlie Bell and Florida center Udonis Haslem.
Haslem scored a career-high 27 points for the Gators (29-9), who were appearing in the national title game for the first time in school history. Florida was the first No. 5 seed to reach the title game since the seeding process began in 1979.
"Obviously, it's a difficult loss," said Gators coach Billy Donovan. "It's tough when you get this loss. But at the same time, we lost to a better team tonight. I know (the players) probably don't want to hear this, but I wish it was October 15 tomorrow and we could get started at it again." "We will try to learn from our mistakes and correct them," added Florida guard Justin Hamilton. "We will go back to the drawing board because we fell short of our ultimate goal this year." Peterson finished with 21 points and fellow senior A.J. Granger had 19 and nine rebounds for the Spartans, who shot 60 percent (15-of-25) in the second half, finished at 56 percent (33-of-59) from the field and held a 32-30 rebounding advantage.
Michigan State had a 43-32 lead at intermission and did not let it dip below six points during the second half.
"I really don't think it was their defense tonight," Florida guard Teddy Dupay said. "I think so often that's what they get credit for, but offensively is where they hurt us tonight. They scored pretty much at will." Right after Cleaves departed, Mike Chappell drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key and added a follow shot moments later to give the Spartans a 55-44 lead with 13:46 left.
"This is what college basketball is all about, winning a national championship," said Chappell.
With Cleaves in the locker room, Bell, a junior, inherited the point guard role.
"I put the team on my shoulders," Bell said. "The situation was not any different than the beginning of the year (when Cleaves was injured). For half of the year, I ran the team. I feel very comfortable running the point." Granger hit a 3-pointer with 12:11 to play after the Gators had scored five straight points, then added another with 7:35 left that made it 71-58. Peterson's final basket of the game came with 5:18 to go and gave Michigan State its biggest lead at 82-62.
The Spartans committed 14 turnovers but never seemed intimidated by Florida's press. Twice early in the first half, Cleaves broke the press and drove for easy layups. His 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8:48 to go before the break made it 29-20 and ignited the key seven-point burst.
"We just weren't doing a good job of jumping in front of their guys that were flashing across the middle," said Florida forward Mike Miller. "They even went middle, sideline on us, too. They did a good job." "I think we attacked their press well tonight and passed off very well," Izzo added.
Florida never led and Michigan State took the lead for good, 7-4, on Granger's 3-pointer from the right wing.
Brent Wright had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Gators, who connected on 43 percent (26-of-60) of their shots, including 6-of-18 from 3-point range.
Florida's bench outscored Michigan State's reserves, 26-16, but Chappell came up with two of the biggest baskets of the game and freshman Jason Richardson had nine points and two rebounds in 16 minutes for the Spartans.
"We didn't have the type of intensity we have a lot of times, but that's not to take anything away from them," Dupay said. "Cleaves is really tough and he did a good job ball-handling. We didn't sustain energy." .