TULSA, Okla. — All throughout the season, the dominoes kept cruelly falling.
Graduate transfer Ben Carter hurt his knee in Michigan State’s first practice. Senior big man Gavin Schilling suffered the same fate in October. Against Purdue in February, senior guard Eron Harris went down with a season-ending knee injury.
On Sunday, when the No. 9-seeded Spartans took the floor for their second-round matchup against top-seeded Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region, one lone scholarship senior remained: Alvin Ellis III. Coach Tom Izzo stressed his desire to send him out “the way a Michigan State senior should be sent out.”
A 90-70 loss to the Jayhawks probably wasn’t what he had in mind. Afterward, Ellis reflected on what he was feeling, and it sounded like the finality of his college career had started to sink in.
“It’s hurting me right now,” he said in the locker room. “Ending as a senior like that, it’s definitely hurting me. I wish I had a few more minutes. Hopefully it’ll go away later on, but it’s hurting right now.”
Ellis took a big step up in his senior year, averaging 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game while playing 19.4 minutes per game and becoming a regular starter by the end of the season. He had not averaged more than 2.6 points or 8.6 minutes in any of his previous three seasons.
That, combined with Michigan State’s run through adversity to the program’s 20th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, gave him lasting memories. He pointed out “the little things” — such as trips with his teammates — that he will remember most.
“I’m excited with how my season went,” he said, “and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
As for the future, Ellis doesn’t know where he’ll end up. He’ll consult with Izzo, see where his options lie and come to a decision about his next move.
The chats with Izzo, for now, revolve around the end of the season. Immediately after the game, the Michigan State coach addressed his players and told them to embrace the moment, just as Ellis had.
“A lot of people didn’t think we were going to come this far,” Ellis said. “He was just proud with that, and (Izzo) was saying don’t take anything for granted. For some people, this is the last game in their career, like myself.”