ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Michigan State secured its place in history by denying John Chaney his.
The defending national champion Spartans became just the eighth school to reach the Final Four in three consecutive seasons, riding David Thomas' career-high 19 points to a 69-62 victory over Temple in the NCAA Tournament South Region final.
Michigan State (28-4) never trailed and kept the upstart Owls (24-13) at arm's length for the second half as it became only the 10th team to reach college basketball's promised land three straight times.
"When the season started I thought we could be a good team, maybe a very good team, but I am not going to lie to you and tell you I thought we defenitely could get back to the NCAA Final Four, because I didn't in a way," said Michigan State Tom Izzo.
UCLA and Ohio State have reached the Final Four three straight times on two occasions, while Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Cincinnati and San Francisco are the other schools to accomplish the rare feat.
"I was always told by coaches that if you are a good coach coach, the biggest pressures come from within and the pressures that you put on yourself," Izzo added. "So with that, there is no pressure off because I want to win another national championship." The top-seeded Spartans, who will play Arizona or Big Ten Conference rival Illinois on Saturday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, held at least a three-point advantage over the final 20 minutes, never giving Temple the ball with a chance to tie.
Thomas, a senior who also collected seven rebounds, hit what amounted to the game-sealing shot, a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave Michigan State a 65-57 lead with 61 seconds remaining in front of 25,996 at the Georgia Dome.
"I just made shots today," said Thomas. "When we play, you have to be ready to step up and today my teammates were finding me and my shots were falling. It was somewhat of a dream come true, but if we can win another national championship, it will feel even better." The Owls fell behind by double digits early but nearly recovered with a 12-3 run that closed the first half. But they managed only two field goals after Alex Wesby's 3-pointer pulled them within 54-51 with 6 1/2 minutes left.
On the ensuing possession, Zach Randolph hit the second of two free throws for a four-point cushion and the 6-9 freshman, who had 14 rebounds, followed moments later with a layup for a 57-51 Spartans' lead with 5:17 left.
Michigan State held on down the stretch despite making just half of its 14 free-throw attempts in the final 3:45.
Temple's Kevin Lyde tried to neutralize Michigan State's frontcourt advantage by tallying 21 points and eight rebounds, but the Owls' guard tandem of Lynn Greer and Quincy Wadley struggled through a poor shooting afternoon.
The duo entered averaging 33.5 points per game but Greer had just six points and Wadley was held scoreless in the first half. Although Greer finished with 22, the backcourt matches were 9-of-33 from the floor and 2-of-14 from beyond the arc.
"They play a great team defense," Greer said. "Every time you got by someone, there was always someone else there helping out. They have great recovery and get in your face on every shot." The Owls fell to 0-5 in regional final games under the 69-year-old John Chaney, who publicly has voiced a desire to get to the Final Four. But Temple fell one win shy of the sport's pinnacle for the fifth time since 1988.
"It is something we all dream about, but very often dreams come up short," said Chaney. "Very often you don't realize everything. At the same time, you have to realize that the growth you see in youngsters like these is probably the highest accomplishment you can reach and you ought to be happy with that." Temple failed in a bid to match the feat of Louisiana State (1986) and become the lowest-seeded team to reach the Final Four. The Owls were seeded 11th after a subpar regular season and likely only made the tournament by winning the Atlantic 10 championship. They then rolled to easy victories over Texas, Florida and Penn State.
Meanwhile, Michigan State improved to 14-1 in NCAA Tournament play over the last three seasons. The Spartans lost to Duke in the 1999 Final Four but defeated Florida for the national title last year.
"Tom (Izzo) is a great motivator who works on all the details and he will have them ready (for the Final Four)," said Chaney. "He had them ready today." Thomas, who saw just four minutes of playing time in the 2000 national title game, had the first two baskets of Sunday's contest and a pull-up jumper on the break by Charlie Bell gave the Spartans a 14-5 lead less than eight minutes in.
The bulge expanded on a three-point play by Jason Richardson that made it 27-15 with just under four minutes left until halftime. But Lyde, who scored eight of his team's first 15 points, kept the Owls in it.
A 6-9 junior, Lyde hit a turnaround that began the closing burst in the first half. He also had a layup and a fallaway and Greer's jumper from the right corner made it 30-27 at intermission.
Bell, however, had two quick layups to begin the second half and a jumper by Andre Hutson pushed Michigan State's lead to 36-27.
"Very gratifying, to make it back to the Final Four," said Hutson. "I am so happy to seen the senior players on the team step up and make plays to get us there." Bell scored 14 points and Hutson and Jason Richardson had 11 apiece for the Spartans, who connected on 48 percent (26-of-54) of their shots and held a 43-27 advantage on the boards. Hutson pulled down 10 rebounds.
"Our defense was out key to winning today," Richardson said. "This is special and I will remember this in the years to come." The Owls committed just four turnovers but shot 38 percent (24-of-63), including 4-of-23 from 3-point range.
Temple, which reached the Final Four in 1956 and 1958, had won 10 straight.