Early in Friday night’s game, when Michigan State took a lead over Virginia, the Spartans slapped their palms on the Madison Square Garden floor to generate enthusiasm in their East Regional game of the NCAA tournament.

Later, in the second half, when they fell behind by four points amid a flurry of turnovers, the rattled Spartans might have felt like punching the hardwood (or each other) with their fists. But they’ve learned their lesson from earlier this season when Branden Dawson broke his hand punching a table.

“We never lost our poise,” Dawson said of Friday night’s game. “We didn’t point any fingers.”

When it ended – after midnight in the city that doesn’t sleep – Dawson had a game-best 24 points and the Spartans had a grueling 61-59 victory over Virginia. They’d better get their rest. They play Connecticut on Sunday afternoon for the right to go to the Final Four and the Huskies will treat it like a home game.

Their state border is but a short ride away. Much of the Garden was filled with Huskies’ fans when they beat Iowa State, 81-76, in Friday’s first game.

“It felt like a home game,” said Shabazz Napier of UConn. “It’s definitely confidence for us. We’ve played here a bunch of times. Madison Square Garden is kind of our third home.”

The others are on campus in Storrs, Conn., and in Hartford. Speaking of home: With Michigan’s victory over Tennessee Friday night, the two Big Ten teams from the Great Lakes State are now among the Elite Eight. Two more victories for each would put MSU against U-M in the championship game.

What a finish that would be to a tournament in which many high seeds have fallen away and no one team seems dominant. Both of Friday’s games here were gripping and Manhattan at the moment feels like one big college town.

The locals are loving it. They consider their city the basketball capital of the world. Just ask them. It’s sort of like Indiana without the humility. The media is playing up the history of college hoops in the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” now in its fourth location.

There are stories about great local teams of the 1950s and the great National Invitational Tournaments of the past before the NCAA got so important, and how the NCAA hasn’t been here since 1961.

College basketball was a lesser thing in those days, sometimes a shady business. In the previous Garden, up Eighth Avenue 16 short blocks north, the air back then was filled with tobacco smoke and the grunts and growls of gamblers cheering for or against the point spread.

Back then, college athletes weren’t paid -- (come to think of it . . . ) -- and they were vulnerable to gamblers, who gave them money to shave points and fix games. For a few years, it was thought that the New York gambling scandals had permanently damaged the college sport.