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FINAL: Michigan State uses late rally to beat Davidson 74-73 to stay alive in NCAA Tournament

March 19, 2022
<p>Freshman guard Jaden Akins (3) attempts to score against the Davidson Wildcats on March 18, 2022.</p>

Freshman guard Jaden Akins (3) attempts to score against the Davidson Wildcats on March 18, 2022.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

Michigan State and Davidson stood eye-to-eye for much of its 40-minute battle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before the Spartans pulled away in the final moments to win 74-73 to knock out Davidson from the Big Dance.

After trailing by five with 6:51 left, MSU outscored Davidson by six points to retake the lead and never relinquish it to survive and advance in the NCAA Tournament. 

Senior forward Joey Hauser had his best offensive night in his two-year career as a Spartan. Hauser finished with 27 points, tying his career high, and eight rebounds, including 12 and three in the first half. Sophomore point guard A.J. Hoggard was the leader of the Spartan offense and started to take over with six minutes left to give MSU the lead going down the stretch and finished with 14 points.

Davidson was led by its frontcourt duo of redshirt sophomore forward Sam Mennenga and senior forward Luka Brajkovic, who combined for 33 points and nine rebounds. Their effort in the paint made it nearly impossible for MSU to string together stops and build a run until the final moments of the game. 

Michigan State, after looking shaky offensively most of the game, found its rhythm in the final five minutes which did not allow Davidson to get their foot back in the door no matter how hard they tried. The effort keeps MSU’s season alive for at least two more days.

Nerves ran high early for both teams as they struggled to find the bottom of the basket. Davidson began the game 1-10 from the field and MSU was 3-11 in the opening minutes. Both teams started to find their groove after the sloppy opening five minutes and started trading baskets.

MSU jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first minute but Davidson tied the game at 10 just minutes later. Neither team could establish a foothold and break off a run to take a convincing lead. Through the first 20 minutes, Davidson shot 46.2% (12-26) and MSU shot 45.2% (14-31) as they hung neck and neck. 

Anytime Hauser would score for MSU, it would be answered by a layup by Davidson at the rim on the dribble drive. If Mennenga or junior wing Hyunjung Lee hit a three, the Spartans found a quick answer offensively to keep it within a possession.

The intricate waltz between MSU and Davidson continued until there were seven minutes left in the first half when MSU was able to build up a 26-21 lead with a midrange jumper from senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. and a layup from Hauser. The Wildcats did not roll over, however, and answered with an 8-0 run of its own over the next two minutes to retake a three-point lead.

Most of the damage was done by Mennenga, who had to slide to the center position early on after Atlantic 10 player of the Year Brajkovic picked up two early fouls. Mennenga scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half while playing against MSU’s bigger frontline. 

During the run, MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo stomped up and down the sideline imploring his players to play better defense, but the Wildcats continued to march into the paint for easy baskets going into the final media timeout of the half. 

In the final four minutes, however, it was all Michigan State. The Spartans closed the half on a six to two run while playing much better defense to take a 32-31 lead into the halftime locker room. 

The tug of war continued into the first five minutes of the second half. Brajkovic, out of foul trouble, started dominating on the low block and scored seven of the team’s first nine points in the second half. On the other end, Hauser continued to fill it up from all over the court. The efforts from the two big men kept the game knotted at 43 with 14:53 left. 

MSU got out in front 49-45 minutes later but could do nothing to slow down Brajkovic, who continued to bully whatever MSU defender was left on him. After a Lee three cut MSU’s lead to one, Brajkovic scored two buckets in a minute stretch to put Davidson up 52-49 with 9:27 left. 

Davidson held a narrow lead for the next four minutes before Hoggard injected life into MSU’s offense. He broke a five-minute scoring drought with back-to-back layups which was followed by a Hauser three to tie the game at 56. Hoggard then got the ball in transition and cut to the rim and dished a wraparound pass to senior forward Gabe Brown in the corner for a wide open three to put MSU up 59-56 with 5:07 left. 

Hoggard continued to press down on the gas pedal, finishing another contested layup at the rim to put MSU up five before Davidson’s Michael Jones cut it back to two with a long three. Junior center Julius Marble II pushed the lead back to five with three minutes left with an and-one over Brajkovic and screamed to the rafters knowing he just pushed MSU's lead to an insurmountable margin. 

The Spartans pushed the lead to three possessions heading into the final minute, forcing Davidson to start fouling every trip. The Spartans were sound enough from the charity stripe despite a few turnovers to close the door on the Wildcats’ season.

With the win, MSU moves onto the round of 32 to take on second-seeded Duke, who defeated 15-seeded Cal State Fullerton 78-61 earlier on Sunday. 

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