By Chris Dufresne
12:22 AM EDT, March 23, 2014
SPOKANE, Wash. — Michigan State advanced to the round of 16 on Saturday but only after going 12 unexpected rounds with middleweight Harvard.
Michigan State, a watch-out No. 4-seeded team in the East Regional that many think can win the national title, almost didn't make it out of Spokane.
The bigger, stronger but not necessarily smarter Spartans blew every inch of a 16-point second-half lead and had to muster all their talent to escape with an 80-73 victory before 11,623 at Spokane Arena.
Michigan State (28-8) advances to the East Regional in New York and will face Sunday's winner between Virginia and Memphis.
"We survived," Michigan State guard Gary Harris said, "and we're advancing."
Another solid Harvard season under Coach Tommy Amaker ends at 27-5.
Branden Dawson led Michigan State with 26 points, and Harris added 18. Adreian Payne, who scored 41 points in Thursday's win over Delaware, was held to 12.
Michigan State, picked by President Obama to win the national title, must have made some of its fans nervous when Laurent Rivard's corner three-pointer with 7:10 left put Harvard ahead, 62-60.
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said he was never comfortable with his team's double-digit lead. It didn't help that the Spartans had 10 second-half turnovers.
"The difference in the second half, we got sloppy," Izzo said. "If we can learn from it I think it will help this team."
Michigan State didn't panic after losing the lead and went on a 20-13 run to finish the game.
This marks Michigan State's 12th trip to the Sweet 16 in the last 17 seasons, and the sixth time in the last seven years.
Michigan State led by 12 points at halftime and extended it to 16 on Dawson's dunk with 17:38 left.
It seemed impossible Harvard could come back, but the Crimson did, going on a 22-6 run.
"We weren't going to go out like that," junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi said of his team's poor first-half performance.
Two Brandyn Curry three-pointers started to swing momentum and Michigan State couldn't stop it.
Before you knew it, Wesley Saunders had tied the score at 55-all with 9:07 left on a rousing dunk after stealing Spartan Matt Costello's errant pass.
Two minutes later, Harvard took the lead on Rivard's dramatic three-point shot.
Travis Trice answered with a three of his own and Michigan State never trailed again.
"They responded like great teams do," Harvard's Curry said of Michigan State.
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