The Michigan State Spartans topped the Harvard Crimson tonight in the Round of 32. They didn’t do it uncontested, or without concern. Tommy Amaker, former University of Michigan coach, had his conference championship winning team ready to battle a familiar opponent. MSU won 80-73, three quick takeaways from the game are:
1. Gary Harris took this one over in the second half. Harris seemed to throw the Spartans on his back in the second half when they were in desperate need of offense. Keith Appling picked up his fourth foul with 11:22 left in the game and an 8 point Spartan lead. After a 6-0 Harvard run MSU called a time-out to stop the bleeding, however, Harvard scored following the time-out to tie the game at 55. Harvard threw a punch, and the Spartans were desperate. As the saying goes, big time players make big time plays in big time games. Well, Harris must be a big time player because with the game tied at 55 he knocked down a contested, deep three-pointer. Harris’ shot was the second biggest play of the game, just to get the Spartans back on the track. He ended up scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half, he also chipped in with 5 assists. What’s going unnoticed about Harris’ game recently is his efficiency, he was able to score 18 points on just 11 shots. With his always hard nosed defense, 4 steals today, he is obviously one of the top players left in the tournament.
2. Branden Dawson is a beast. Dawson has been incredible since returning from injury this season. Tonight was no exception, he took over the game from the opening tip. His strength and athleticism makes him a man among boys on the floor, he had 18 points by half and finished with a career high 26 points. Earlier I said Harris was efficient, well, so was Dawson; he went 12-15 from the floor. I was a little sad when he missed his three-point attempt, a rare site, and I’m sure it will stay that way. Other than leading the team in scoring tonight, he led them in rebounds with 9.
3. Every team will be tested in the tournament, it’s all about how you respond. Tom Izzo had to be happy with the way his team responded to the run Harvard made in the second half. Harris showed he’s the go-to player on the team, making big play after big play. But, in a toughly contested win, there will always be unsung hero’s. Tonight’s Batman and Robin are Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. With Appling saddled with foul trouble, Trice had to step in as point guard. Fortunately for the Spartans, Trice has had a great tournament. Earlier I said Harris made the second biggest play of the game, that’s because Travis Trice made the biggest shot of the game. With 7:11 seconds left in the game, Laurent Rivard from Harvard made a three-pointer to give Harvard a 62-60 lead. Trice had the answer; on the preceding possession he nailed a three-pointer to give a 1 point lead back to the Spartans, and they never trailed again. Valentine made the list because he nailed tonight’s dagger. It’s always cool to hit the games dagger, and Valentine takes those honors tonight. Harvard was making one final run, and they pulled within 5 points with just over 4 minutes to go. That’s when Valentine ran baseline off of a posting Branden Dawson, Dawson kicked it out to Valentine who stepped back and put the dagger in Harvard’s chances of winning the game. After that three it seemed that free-throws were the only thing that could stop the Spartans from winning the game.