ST. LOUIS — No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State sent the biggest shock yet through the NCAA men's basketball tournament Friday, shutting down Michigan State star Denzel Valentine in a 90-81 victory over the second-seeded Spartans.
Baylor School graduate Reggie Upshaw from Chattanooga scored 21 points to lead the balanced Blue Raiders (25-9), who became the eighth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 since seeding began in 1985. The last time it happened was in 2013, when Florida Gulf Coast beat Georgetown on its way to the Sweet 16.
The Blue Raiders will try to do the same against No. 10 seed Syracuse on Sunday.
"When we saw the selection show last week, we felt disrespected because we knew we were better than a 15 seed," Upshaw told the Times Free Press on Friday night. "I think we proved that today."
The Spartans (29-6) were a trendy pick to win the national championship after winning the Big Ten's tournament title. Part of it had to do with the experience of Valentine and the seniors, and part of it had to do with coach Tom Izzo's postseason pedigree.
They got sent home without leading a single second in their only game of this year's tournament.
"It's frustrating," Valentine said. "Very frustrating."
Matt Costello matched a career best with 22 points for the Spartans, but it wasn't enough to offset Valentine's miserable afternoon. The senior had 13 points and 12 assists, but he also had six turnovers — one of them coming with the Spartans trailing 79-76 and less than three minutes to go.
Michigan State twice had chances to tie the game after that, but Valentine missed an open 3 from the top of the key, and Bryn Forbes missed another. The Blue Raiders eventually scored on back-to-back runouts to establish some breathing room, then coaxed the final few seconds off the clock.
"With about three or four minutes to go, we started to get momentum on our side," Upshaw said, "and that's when I think we realized we could really do this."
Darnell Harris and Perrin Buford scored 15 apiece and Jaqawn Raymond had 11 as the Conference USA champion Blue Raiders earned their first NCAA tournament win since 1989.
Not that they haven't made a statement before: They beat Kentucky in the first round in 1982.
"Our coach told us if we rebound the ball and get back on defense, we'll have a big chance to win this game," Potts said. "We played our (butts) off today."
They never seemed intimidated by the Spartans, either, roaring to a 15-2 lead in the opening minutes and slowly getting the Syracuse and Dayton fans in the building on their side.
Michigan State chipped away at its deficit but never managed to make an extended run. Valentine was saddled with two fouls and rendered ineffective most of the way, and the backcourt of Forbes and Eron Harris combined for four turnovers while managing a single point.
Valentine's frustration reached its apex after he committed back-to-back turnovers in the second half. During a stoppage in play and with the Blue Raiders leading 51-43, Valentine stalked back to his team's huddle and proceeded to slam his hand into the floor.
Michigan State slowly trimmed the lead to 65-64 on a basket by Costello with eight minutes to play, but the Blue Raiders scored on their next six trips downcourt to hold their lead. They held onto it the rest of the way, too.
It was the first time the Spartans, heavily favored to reach the Final Four, were bounced from the tournament in the first round since 2011.
"We just couldn't make that one play," the Spartans' Tum Tum Nairn said. "That's the thing about this tournament: Tomorrow is not a guarantee."
Forbes finished with 14 points. Harris had nine points and five turnovers.
Potts, who led the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage, was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. The Blue Raiders have won seven games in a row.
"I think everybody had Michigan State in their Final Four, if not winning it all," Upshaw told the Times Free Press. "I guess we messed up some brackets today."