Hands in pockets, sporting a droll and regretful half-smile, Izzo gave his counterpart a quick hug as the two exchanged a few words. Then the 64-year-old Hall of Famer made his way through the handshake line and was the first to walk off the court at U.S. Bank Stadium, his sixth defeat in eight games in the national semifinals complete.
Yeah, Izzo: 2-6. Surprising, isn't it?
Texas Tech's 61-51 win over Michigan State was, by definition, an upset. MSU was the higher-seeded team and was favored by 2.5 points. Saturday night's Red Raiders win also became the first time that MSU lost a national semifinal as the favored team. That's what made this feel different. TTU had been rolling through this tournament, but Michigan State had the offense -- its best offense, arguably ever, under Izzo -- to counteract the Red Raiders' attack.
Didn't matter. Sparty sputtered again.
"Very seldom in my career have we kind of got out beat up, and tonight was one of those nights," Izzo said.
Izzo coached himself into the Hall of Fame because he developed an unnatural habit of making the Final Four. And there's no shame in losing once you get there; winning a national title is extremely hard.
Izzo knows that as well as anyone -- maybe even better than anyone. But, oddly, Izzo's has made nearly as much a habit of losing in the national semis as he has making them to begin with. The odds of a coach of Izzo's caliber being 1 for 8 in winning the national title after making the Final Four seem unreasonable. He's 3-7 in the Final Four/national title game for his career.
Michigan State is indisputably on the list of the top 10 programs in college basketball over the past 25 years. But as Izzo himself said earlier in this NCAA Tournament, winning a second championship is what he craves. He needs it for self-validation.
Maybe it's because of results like this. Groundhog Day-esque torture for Spartans fans and, no doubt, Izzo himself. Making the Final Four is something most coaches would give 15 years of their career for -- even for one trip. But winning six games in this bracket is a lot harder than winning four. Izzo has become the most obvious and repetitive example of that.
The Spartans had their shot at the comeback on Saturday night. Tariq Owens left with a lower-leg injury, only to return to roaring approval from the TTU faithful. Michigan State cut the Texas Tech lead to three points. And with the Spartans trailing 54-51, Matt McQuaid had an open 3-point look.
It didn't fall in.
Two possessions later, future top-10 pick Jarrett Culver provided a sword to Sparty's stomach with a top-of-the-key triple that put Tech up by seven.
"The sad part is that cramp came right on that 3-point shot on the wing and air-balled it, but he still wanted to get back in there, and we needed him in there," Izzo said of McQuaid. "He'll go down as one of the all-time great guys and hardest workers that I've ever coached."
MSU never scored again, its 51 points a season-low ... by a margin of 11.
And its 15 field goals a season low ... by a difference of six. Tech allowed MSU to score only 14 points in the paint. Combine that with 7-of-24 shooting from 3-point range? MSU had no chance.
"I mean, they played really good defense," Izzo said. "I didn't think we played very good offense, and I think that falls on my shoulders, not theirs."
The loss also means another year's wait for the Big Ten, which hasn't seen a national championship in men's basketball materialize since Sparty did it at the start of the century.
"We didn't get it done," Izzo said of the Big Ten's title drought. "I feel like I'm part of that issue, so I'll put on my big boy pants and say, yeah, you've been here eight times, you've won one, so that's part of the problem."
Izzo dropped the word "disappointing" multiple times in his presser. It's apt. MSU has become the predominant disappointing team in the Final Four. Its only other national title appearance under Izzo came in 2009, when MSU reasonably lost to UNC, which is one of the five most talented champions of the past 20 years.
"I'm going to keep knocking on the door," he said. "One of these days it's going to open."
Final Fours are guaranteed to no one. Maybe this is Izzo's last; maybe he makes another two, three or four. He never deflects blame, which is, honestly, refreshing to see.
A national title could await in that future. In light of this loss, though, it's a lot easier to understand why winning a second one means as much to Izzo now as winning the first one ever could have. His lack of success in the final weekend has become as much of his reputation as the fact that he gets there more commonly than any coach in the game in the past 25 years.