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Thursday, August 21, 2014 | Last updated: 4:48pm


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MSU escapes Harvard, moves on to Sweet 16


Dawson helps Spartans pull away




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Junior guard/forward Branden Dawson passes the ball while Harvard guard Laurent Rivard guards on March 22, 2014, at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane, Wash. during their game against Harvard in the NCAA Tournament. Dawson made 26 points during the game. Betsy Agosta/The State News



Click here to see a video recap of MSU's game.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Early on, it was all MSU.

Pack the bags, book the tickets for New York City and get ready for more MSU basketball.

The Spartans walked into halftime leading Harvard by 12 points, and the game was all but settled. MSU even came out on a 7-3 run in the second half to go up, 52-36.

Until MSU put it into cruise control and let Harvard compile a remarkable 19-3 run to tie the game at 55-all with 9:07 left in the game.

“It was a test for us – I think we dug a huge hole for ourselves,” junior forward Branden Dawson said. “But we didn’t give up. Harvard is just a great team and they kept fighting. It was a test, a lot of teams that have been upset in the tournament.”

It got even more nerve-racking, as Laurent Rivard scored his first points of the game to take a 62-60 lead with 7:12 left in the game. And just like that, MSU’s once-16 point lead turned into a one point deficit.

Sophomore guard Gary Harris said after the game one thought ran through his mind as he watched the lead vanish.

“Just stay calm,” he said.

And they did, erasing the brief moment of panic that struck as Spokane Arena suddenly sounded like Harvard’s home court.

Junior guard Travis Trice drained a 3-pointer on the following possession to go up, 63-62. Senior forward Adreian Payne proceeded to hit two free throws on the next trip down the court. Harris splashed home a 3-pointer to take a 68-62 lead.

Harvard caused another scare by getting the game to within four points with less than a minute remaining, but the second threat came too late.

It wasn’t pretty, but MSU booked tickets to its sixth Sweet 16 in seven seasons after escaping Harvard with a 80-73 victory.

“This is the tournament – games are going to get close,” Harris said. “Harvard is a very good team, and they stuck around with us the whole game and make a run at the end.”

In the first half, better referred to as “The Branden Dawson Show,” the Spartans controlled the first 20 minutes. Dawson led the game in scoring with 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field, which is the highest shooting percentage in the NCAA Tournament since Chris Webber in 1992.

“He came out like a man,” sophomore forward Matt Costello said. “There’s not much more you can say about it. He knew what he had to do, and Harvard focused a lot on AP in the post, so BJ was able to cut, run backdoor and get a lot of open looks.”

Sophomore guard Gary Harris chipped in with 18 points, 14 coming in the second half, while senior forward Adreian Payne scored 12 of his own.

It was a tale of two halves protecting the ball, as MSU only gave the ball up once during the first half. Harvard made some defensive adjustments at halftime and forced MSU to cough up the ball 10 times in the second half. Harris was Harvard’s main prey, as he committed a game-high four turnovers.

“Their pressure got to us a little bit,” Costello said. “In the second half we had 10 turnovers, and that killed us. They just really stepped it up.”

Harvard’s Wesley Saunders played a huge role for the Crimson, as his 22 total points helped tighten up the game in the second half.

The Spartans will move on to the Sweet 16 in New York City, where they will face the winner of the Virginia-Memphis game in hopes to move onto the Elite Eight.

Foul frustrations

Two days after committing 27 fouls against Delaware, MSU committed 20 fouls against Harvard – the ninth time they have committed that many this season.

The two biggest culprits were seniors Payne and Keith Appling, who each committed four fouls. Valentine and Trice also committed three apiece.

The fouling allowed Harvard to score 23 points on 30 attempts, and that didn’t play well with head coach Tom Izzo after the game.

“There’s a negative right now that I’m concerned with, we’re in foul trouble all the time,” Izzo said. “I question some of it. I have all year.

“I would like us to get a little smarter, when you got to foul you can’t be reaching, just put your arms up. If they score, they score.”


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