Michigan State found enough consistency from the free-throw line to hold off a pesky Georgia team 70-63 on Friday in an NCAA tournament second-round matchup at Time Warner Cable Arena.
No. 10 seed Georgia got off to a quick start, fell behind by 13 at halftime and still trailed by 13 with just over seven minutes left in the game before slowly clawing back in. The Bulldogs cut the margin to four points several times in the final three minutes before Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine went six-for-six from the free-throw line down the stretch.
Seventh-seed Michigan State (24-11) has won five of its past six games, with its only loss to No. 1 seed Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament final.
Valentine led the Spartans with 16 points, and Travis Trice added 15. Junior guard Charles Mann led the Bulldogs with 19 points.
Valentine’s free-throw touch saved the Spartans. While Georgia was desperately attempting to fight back from a 13-point second-half deficit, Valentine went six-for-six in the final two minutes to ice the game. As a team, Michigan State shot 58 percent from the line; everyone other than Valentine went 5-of-13.
Stat that mattered
Michigan State’s Branden Dawson saved all of his points (14) and rebounds (six) for the second half, and they were greatly needed as Georgia held Spartans star guard Trice to just four points after halftime.
Despite a sprained left foot, Georgia guard Kenny Gaines played 20 minutes and scored 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, before fouling out late in the game. ... In 29 NCAA tournament appearances, MSU is 23-6 in the opening game. ... Georgia has never won an NCAA tournament game in Charlotte (0-3).
▪ “We just find a way to make it more difficult than it is.” – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
▪ “We competed and we just had to play uphill, which is hard to do.” – Georgia coach Mark Fox
Michigan State will play Virginia, which defeated Belmont 79-67 on Friday, in the first of two third-round games on Sunday afternoon. ... Georgia ends its season at 21-12, having lost three of its final five games.