In the span of roughly eight game minutes during Saturday night's Round of 32 matchup with Harvard, Michigan State went from America's tournament favorite to a team in the way of a major upset. The Crimson — previously down 16 points on two separate occasions — were making a serious bid at being this year's Cinderella by storming back and going on a 24-8 run to take a 62-60 lead on Laurent Rivard's corner 3-pointer with about seven minutes to play. The Spartans looked about as shocked as everyone watching, and it felt too much like one of those upsets that make March Madness so great until it happens to you.
But if history has taught us anything, it's that Tom Izzo doesn't lose the second game of an NCAA tournament weekend (19-3). On the possession after Rivard gave Harvard the lead, Travis Trice took it right back with a 3-pointer of his own, and MSU never trailed again. After the Spartans dominated for the first 25 minutes, Saturday's win was much too close for comfort. But it was a win regardless, and MSU is back in the Sweet 16 for the 12th time in 17 years.
Here are your four factors (unfortunately not in pretty bar graph form):
Ball Handling (TO%)
Offensive Rebounding (OR%)
Free Throws (FTR)
MSU didn't dominate the glass the way you might expect against a team like Harvard, but the Spartans built their double-digit lead by doing pretty much whatever they wanted offensively in the first half. After three straight misses to start the game, MSU made its next six shots, until Branden Dawson missed a 3-pointer at the 14:13 mark. That was about the only thing Dawson did wrong in the first 20 minutes...
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Dawson is the pretty easy choice here. The junior forward tied his career-high with 20 points in the first half. He finished with 26 points on 12-for-15 shooting and collected nine rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end. As he tends to do, Dawson delivered a couple highlight-reel dunks, including an alley-oop he caught with two hands and finished with his right, bringing my living room to its feet. Like a lot of teams, Harvard simply didn't have anyone built like Dawson that could contain him once he got inside of 10 feet, and the Spartans exploited that early.
A case could also be made for Gary Harris, who scored 18 points, hit a big 3-pointer shortly after MSU took the lead back and made four straight free throws to close out the game.
PLAY OF THE GAME
That oop was pretty neat, but Trice's 3-pointer that put MSU on top for good 18 seconds after Harvard took its one and only lead was about as big as it gets. After scoring 52 points in the first 24:17 of the game, the Spartans scored eight points in the next 8:51. MSU definitely looked like a team that started to coast too early, and Trice's only made basket of the game was a big shot in the arm.
MSU will play at Madison Square Garden on Friday against the winner of Sunday's game between No. 1 Virginia and No. 8 Memphis (8:40 pm, TNT).