They said the buckets would be hard to come by. And they were right.

When the dust settled, Michigan State emerged victorious with the scars to prove it.

The No. 4 seed Spartans -- behind Branden Dawson's 24 points and 10 rebounds -- beat the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers 61-59 in an NCAA tournament East Regional semifinal Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Michigan State will face No. 7 seed UConn (29-8) in the Elite Eight on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden.

Michigan State's Gary Harris may have been the guy to hit the final free throw Friday, but the fact that he tallied the final point doesn't tell the whole story.

The whole story goes something like this:

With 1:49 left on the clock, ACC sixth man of the year Justin Anderson popped out on the left wing, draining a 3-pointer to tie the game at 51 and cap off a 7-0 Virginia run.

Michigan State called a 30-second timeout to draw up a play. The Spartans broke the huddle, made a couple of passes and found an open Adreian Payne at the top of the key -- nothing but net.

Dawson followed it with a jam to put the Spartans up 56-51 with 50 seconds left.

But Virginia would not be denied. Joe Harris found some space and swirled a shot around the rim and in, cutting Michigan State's lead to 56-54 with 38.2 on the clock.

The two teams then traded free-throw jabs.

A foul by Akil Mitchell sent Payne to the line, where he calmly hit two free throws to stretch the lead to four with 33 seconds left. Virginia's London Perrantes matched that with two free throws of his own to make it 58-56 Michigan State.

Travis Trice hit two ice-in-the-veins free throws to make it 60-56 Spartans with 8.6 seconds to go.

Still, it wouldn't end. Cavaliers guard Malcolm Brogdon drained an NBA 3 with 2.1 seconds left and Virginia still had a chance, down just 60-59.

Harris sealed the deal with his free throw. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo made a long sigh and both teams limped off the court exhausted.

Virginia (30-7) had built a 40-36 lead before Michigan State stormed back on a 7-0 run of its own. That made it 43-40 Michigan State on a Travis Trice 3-pointer with 9:09 to go.

Michigan State started out the game hot and efficient -- shooting 71 percent through the first 8 minutes and building a 23-13 lead.

Then Virginia went on a 14-2 run, holding the Spartans without a field goal for more than 5 minutes and tying the game at 23 with 3:44 left in the half.