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NCAA Tournament: Michigan State narrowly escapes Davidson, 74-73

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MSU will play Duke in the Round of 32 on Sunday.

Davidson v Michigan State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On Friday night, Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team — competing in the program’s 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament — took on the Davidson Wildcats in the Round of 64 in Greenville, South Carolina.

In a dramatic, hard-fought game, the No. 7-seeded Spartans narrowly escaped the No. 10-seeded Wildcats, winning by a final score of 74-73.

Of course, one of the bigger storylines of the game revolved around Foster Loyer — the former Spartan, and current Wildcat — playing against his former team.

However, the story of the game itself was Michigan State forward Joey Hauser, who has dealt with inconsistency and confidence issues himself, and scored a season-high (and career-high-tying) 27 points.

The game was an evenly-matched contest throughout. The Spartans jumped out to a 5-0 lead, thanks to a layup by point guard A.J. Hoggard and a three-pointer by Hauser.

Davidson’s star big man, Luka Brajkovic, then got the Wildcats on the board with a two-pointer, but Michigan State forward Gabe Brown responded with a three-pointer, pushing the Spartans’ lead out to 8-2 early.

The Wildcats would close the gap by scoring the next five points on a three-pointer by forward Sam Mennenga and a layup by guard Grant Huffman, trimming Michigan State’s lead to just one point at 8-7.

Michigan State center Marcus Bingham Jr. then scored on a tip-in off of an offensive rebound, which was then answered with a three-pointer by Davidson guard/forward Desmond Watson. The game was tied 10-10 at that point.

The remainder of the first half, and really the rest of the entire game, would continue to be a back-and-forth affair from there. Eventually, Michigan State took a 32-31 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.

It was Hauser who, surprisingly, led the offensive charge for the Spartans, as he led the team with 12 points at halftime. Hoggard and Brown each had six points at the half. Hoggard also missed two crucial free throws before the break.

The second half was also a tight battle. Bingham opened the half with a jumper, and Mennenga responded with a three-pointer to tie the game at 34-34.

Hauser and Brajkovic would then take matters into their own hands for their respective teams. Hauser scored MSU’s next seven points, including a three-pointer, while Brajkovic scored seven of Davidson’s next nine points. At that point, the Wildcats gained a 43-41 advantage.

Michigan State point guard Tyson Walker, who entered the game with an ankle injury, added a layup to tie the game up at 43-all. A layup by Brown, free throws for Davidson by Loyer, a jumper by Julius Marble and a layup by Hall gave Michigan State a 49-45 lead with 12:53 left to play.

However, the Wildcats would not go away. Davidson went on a run, as guard/forward Hyunjung Lee drilled a three-pointer, and Brajkovic made back-to-back buckets to give the Wildcats a three-point lead at 52-49 with 9:44 remaining on the clock.

Hoggard responded with a layup, but then Mennenga scored a layup of his own on the other end, and Brajkovic scored a two-point basket as well. Davidson led Michigan State 56-51 with 6:52 left to play.

From that point on, though, Michigan State willed its way to victory. The Spartans put together a 10-0 run. Hoggard scored a layup, Hauser and Brown both drilled three-pointers and Hoggard added another two-point bucket. Equally as important, MSU played menacing defense, not allowing Davidson to get any open looks and forcing turnovers.

Michigan State led 61-56 with 3:40 to play. Still, the Wildcats kept fighting. Davidson guard Michael Jones hit a clutch three-pointer to bring his team back within two points.

Then Marble, despite getting fouled, made a layup on the other end, and hit the free throw as well to put the Spartans up 64-59 with about three minutes of gameplay remaining. Marble then made a nice play on the defensive end, blocking a shot attempt from Loyer.

Hauser would add a pair of free throws with 1:15 remaining. Lee was then called for an offensive foul on Davidson’s next possession, and Brown would split a pair of shots from the charity stripe afterward. The Spartans led the Wildcats 67-59 with under a minute remaining on the clock.

Still, Davidson refused to go away. Loyer completed an and-one play for the Wildcats to make the score 67-62 in the Spartans’ favor. Hauser was then fouled and would make both free throws. Davidson got the ball back and Brajkovic drilled one from behind the arc, cutting Michigan State’s lead to just four points at 69-65 with 39 seconds remaining.

Following a timeout, things got dicey for the Spartans, as Hall turned the ball over on the inbound play. Brajkovic would miss a three-pointer, but Lee grabbed the offensive board. Jones would miss another deep shot for the Wildcats, and Hoggard came down with the defensive rebound and was fouled.

Hoggard made both freebies, which was followed up with a layup by Jones for Davidson. Hauser split a pair of free throws on the other end, but Loyer then drained a three-pointer to cut Michigan State’s lead to just two points. The Spartans led 72-70 with only six seconds remaining on the clock.

Walker would then hit a pair of clutch free throws to essentially ice the game. Lee made a deep three-pointer to make the score 74-73, but it was too little, too late for the Wildcats, and the Spartans survived against a feisty Davidson group.

Hauser led the Spartans with his aforementioned 27 points, shooting 9-for-12 overall from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point range. He also added eight rebounds. Hoggard scored 14 points, while Brown tallied 12 points.

Brajkovic led the Wildcats with 18 points. Mennenga (15), Loyer (12) and Lee (11) also scored double-digit point totals for Davidson.

Oddly, both teams shot the same exact percentage (47.5), on the same number of made baskets (28) and shot attempts (59). Davidson made 10 three-pointers on 25 attempts (40 percent), while Michigan State made seven on 26 attempts (27 percents). MSU made 11 free throws, compared to just seven for Davidson, although Michigan State only had two free-throw attempts through the first 37 minutes of gameplay.

The Spartans out-rebounded the Wildcats 35-32. MSU also had just seven turnovers, compared to eight by the Wildcats.

Michigan State will take on the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils on Sunday in the Round of 32, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The game tips off at 5:15 p.m. Eastern Time.