SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Branden Dawson matched his career high in the first half and Michigan State was clicking.
But coach Tom Izzo looked up, saw only a 12-point lead on the scoreboard and knew the game was far from over.
“I kept saying, ‘They’re going to come back. You better realize that,’” Izzo said.
Harvard did, in fact, come back, but the Spartans rebounded for an 80-73 victory Saturday night that helped them advance to the Sweet 16.
Dawson finished with 26 points - 20 before halftime - although Travis Trice hit the most important shot. His 3-pointer gave the Spartans a 63-62 lead after Harvard had overcome a 16-point deficit to take a two-point advantage with 7:12 left.
“They stayed poised and we knew they were going to make a run,” Michigan State guard Gary Harris said. “They’re here for a reason. They made that run, but we stuck together as a team and we were able to fight through it.”
The fourth-seeded Spartans (28-8) will play top-seeded Virginia or No. 8 seed Memphis next Friday in the East Regional semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Harvard (28-5) heads home, but not without making a statement of its own in the NCAA tournament.
“We showed everybody that we can come all year and play with the best,” sophomore guard Siyani Chambers said.
During a comeback that lasted 7 minutes, 31 seconds, 12th-seeded Harvard pounded on Michigan State, plain and simple.
The rally started with a pair of 3-pointers by Brandyn Curry and continued relentlessly. The Crimson grabbed almost every loose ball, kept hands in Michigan State’s flustered faces. Steve Moundou-Missi, the 6-foot-7 forward who was supposed to contain Michigan State’s 6-10 power player, Adreian Payne, simply outplayed him.
When Moundou-Missi tipped in a missed shot with 10:22 left, Harvard trailed only 55-53.
Michigan State called a timeout but Izzo’s play produced an offensive foul. Moundou-Missi missed a layup, but Wesley Saunders, who led the Crimson with 22 points, scrambled for a loose ball and dunked to tie it.
About 90 seconds later, Laurent Rivard hit his 3 to put Harvard ahead 62-60.