The Spartans got quite a scare on Saturday night when after the first half of play, Harvard eliminated a 16-point deficit and surged back in their second round match up of the NCAA tournament.
No. 4 Michigan State coasted through the first half of play, never relinquishing the lead and dominating thanks to a career-high 20 points from Branden Dawson, but it was a different game in the second half with the Crimson's Wesley Saunders scoring 22 points overall to erase a huge lead for MSU and eventually tied the game for Harvard in the final minutes.
Dawson eventually settled with an overall career-high of 26 points, nearly outscoring Harvard in the paint, shooting 22 paint points on 11 of 12 shots. Key three-point shots from MSU's Gary Harris and Travis Trice helped to give the Spartans their final push and rebounds from Adreian Payne kept the Spartans in control as the last minutes rolled down, with MSU winning it 80-73, though it certainly had a lot of hearts beating a little faster.
"It was a scare and we need to give credit to Harvard," Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine said.
Dawson's 26-point effort proved something that Michigan State fans had been waiting to see all year: When the team is healthy, and everyone is playing on the same page, there's no telling just how many ways the Spartans can win a game.
In their previous match up against Delaware, it was star player Payne who scored a career-high 42 points and set a new tournament record for the Spartans and gave his team the win. This time around, it was in a completely unexpected effort from Dawson. Michigan State is proving its versatility and giving credibility to all of the analysts for their immense depth. With a team like Michigan State being as chocked full of talent like it is, it seems like there's no way to know just how they can beat you on any given night.
Still, Harvard deserves a huge amount of credit. In the end, they nearly upset one of the nation's top picks to win it all. The Ivy League may not be known for its basketball teams, but the Crimson proved that they've certainly got talent and can one day be a major factor in the tournament. Something that MSU head coach Tom Izzo says he's known for years about his friend in Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker.
"You look down the other end, and I've got a good friend that's down there," said Izzo, who goes back more than 20 years with Amaker. "I kept saying, 'They're going to come back. You better realize that."
And they nearly did, just barely missing a chance for Harvard to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history.
"I thought our kids competed," Amaker said. "We knew we would."
Michigan State will now go on to play in their 12th Sweet Sixteen in the last 17 years. The Crimson, meanwhile, will go back and take pride in an incredible job well done.
"A wonderful effort by our team," Amaker said. "But you have to play perfect basketball to pull a game out like that."
You can follow writer Michael Ferro at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.