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Michigan State responds to Harvard challenge

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Harvard, the Ivy League school best known for producing scholars, almost produced a major upset in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.

The Crimson erased a 16-point deficit in the second half against Michigan State, but the Spartans quickly regained the lead and held on for an 80-73 victory at Spokane Arena.

“They responded like great teams do,” Harvard guard Brandyn Curry said. “They didn’t lose composure.”

The Spartans, seeded fourth in the East Regional, improved to 28-8 with the third-round win. Michigan State advances to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in the past seven years. The Spartans play Friday in New York against the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 1 seed Virginia (29-6) and No. 8 seed Memphis (24-9).

Junior swingman Branden Dawson led the Spartans with 26 points and nine rebounds. He sank 12 of 15 shots from the field in front of a sellout crowd of 11,623.

“BJ (Dawson) did a great job on the boards, playing defense,” Spartans guard Denzel Valentine said.

Dawson scored 20 points in the first half and Spartans guard Gary Harris had 14 of his 18 points in the second half. Guard Wesley Saunders led Harvard with 22 points and three steals.

Michigan State dominated the first half, forcing seven turnovers en route to a 45-33 lead at the break. When Spartans forward Adreian Payne opened the second half with a thunderous, two-handed dunk, the game appeared to be on the verge of turning into a rout.

The Crimson, however, made a 13-0 run to tie the score at 55-55 with 9:09 left. Two minutes later, gunner Laurent Rivard buried a 3 from the right corner to push Harvard ahead 62-60.

Harvard’s only lead of the game lasted 18 seconds. Spartans guard Travis Trice knocked down a 3 with 6:52 left to ignite an 11-1 spurt for the Spartans, who secured the victory at the free-throw line.

“Just a wonderful effort by our team,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said, “but certainly you’ve got to play perfect basketball to be able to pull a game out like that, being in a deficit that we were.”

Dawson said, “They just kept fighting and never gave up.”

The Spartans had only one turnover in the first half — “We played so well early,” coach Tom Izzo said — then turned it over 10 times in the second half.

Dawson said, “We got comfortable with our lead.”

Izzo said, “We got sloppy.”

Forward Steve Moundou-Missi played a pivotal role in the Harvard comeback. After taking just one shot from the field and going scoreless in the first 20 minutes, he finished with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

“Steve’s play was outstanding,” Amaker said.

Izzo was similarly impressed with the second-half performance and intensity of Harris.

“I could just see it in his eyes,” Izzo said.

Payne, who scored 41 points in Thursday’s win over Delaware, had 12 points. Curry scored 12 for Harvard.

The Spartans took advantage of their size advantage to outscore the Crimson 38-24 in the paint. Michigan State outrebounded Harvard by only two (34-32).

Amaker described Michigan State as “an incredible basketball team.” The coach said he was particularly impressed with the Spartans’ transition game.

“I thought that was really one of the bigger keys,” Amaker said. “They put us on our heels right away and then, certainly, put us in a big deficit and a big hole.

“I can’t say enough about our team and the effort and the guts that they showed in the second half to make a run, to take the lead, to play with so much composure and poise and fight.”

Valentine, who totaled six points, seven rebounds and six assists, said the Crimson gave Michigan State “a scare, and we need to give credit to Harvard.”

Valentine added, “I think that guys (the Spartans) were a little tired. That was our fifth game in nine days, so I think that played a factor.”

Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers said, “I give Michigan State a lot of credit. They played really hard.

“As we were expecting, they came out there ready to battle, and in the

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