'It's a new season': Seniors lift Michigan State over Davidson, Duke up next on Sunday

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Greenville, S.C. — There’s something to be said about seniors not wanting their careers to end.

With just less than seven minutes to play on Friday in a first-round matchup with Davidson in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State’s seniors were faced with that cold, hard reality.

The Spartans had just given up an offensive rebound on a free throw – a harsh callback to last season’s overtime loss to UCLA in the First Four – and found themselves behind, 56-51. The partisan Davidson crowd was on its feet and had Bon Secours Wellness Arena buzzing.

Michigan State forward Joey Hauser (10) defends a shot by Davidson guard Desmond Watson (4) in the second half.

An A.J. Hoggard layup quieted things for a moment, but things really flipped from there as Joey Hauser nailed a 3-pointer followed by another from Gabe Brown – two seniors playing their best when it mattered most.

For about three straight minutes, the Spartans held the Wildcats without a point as Hoggard capped a 10-0 run with a jumper in the lane. It swung the momentum enough to allow No. 7 Michigan State to hold off No. 10 Davidson for a 74-73 victory, a final 3-pointer from the Wildcats doing nothing but changing the final margin.

Michigan State forward Julius Marble II (34) and Michigan State forward Joey Hauser (10) react in the second half.

BOX SCORE: Spartans 74, Wildcats 73

“It was a hell of a basketball game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We made our share of mistakes, and we made our share of great plays. I thought it was a little bit of a roller coaster, but that's a hell of a team we beat.”

Michigan State (23-12), which advances to take on No. 2 Duke on Sunday at 5:15 p.m., got it done thanks primarily to those seniors.

Hauser had arguably the best game of his Michigan State career, matching his career high with 27 points while grabbing eight rebounds. And Brown scored 12, hitting three 3-pointers, including one during the decisive run. Marcus Bingham Jr. had his moments, too, scoring six but grabbing eight rebounds and blocking two shots.

Michigan State guard A.J. Hoggard drives on Davidson forward Sam Mennenga in the first half.

“It means a lot,” Brown said. “We are the upperclassmen of the group, so we have to step up in every way. We have to rebound, run, and defend. We have to do it all out there, and all the guys got to follow along. As a captain, I have to bring energy, communicate, just do all the little things, and guys are going to follow. Marcus did a good job rebounding today and Joey.”

And Joey.

Yeah, how about Joey?

Hauser hadn’t scored more than 17 points in a game this season and hadn’t reached double figures since a Feb. 19 loss to Illinois when he had 11. So to say this one came out of nowhere isn’t much of a stretch.

Michigan State's Joey Hauser (10) comes in to talk with a smiling Tyson Walker (2) along with A.J. Hoggard (11) after Walker made his first free throw in the last minute of Friday's 74-73 win over Davidson in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.

“It's a new season,” Hauser said. “That's the beauty of this tournament. Anything can happen. I thought we had a really good plan offensively, so I felt really confident in that. Offensively, I've been struggling this season, just trying to let it fly and not worry about missing shots. So tonight I really just let that happen, and good things happened.”

Hauser served notice early that he was going to have a big night, hitting all five of his shots in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers.

“You have to be proud of him,” Izzo said of Hauser. “He's been through a lot. We all know it. So many people jumped off his bandwagon, and as you guys know, I never did. You never jump off somebody's bandwagon when you know they're working towards it, and every single day he brought it.”

It paid off on Friday along with 12 points from Brown and 14 from Hoggard.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo reacts after his team throws the ball away late in the second half.

That production, along with a defensive effort late in the game that made Davidson work for its shots, was what made the difference for the Spartans.

“I was impressed that I thought we picked up the energy, which is disappointing because where was it earlier?” Izzo said. “The pressure on the ball wasn't there after the start, and I thought that was a big difference. I thought guys were really, really staying close to their guys and fronting the post. Those two things really helped us.”

Luka Brojkovic scored 18 to lead Davidson (27-7) while Sam Mennenga added 15 for the Wildcats (27-7) with former Spartan Foster Loyer scoring 12 and Hyunjung Lee adding 11 points.

“Congratulations to Tom Izzo and his Michigan State team,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “They made some big plays at big moments tonight. I'm heartbroken for our guys. We got into the center of the ring and we fought. We got knocked down a few times. We stayed in the center ring and we kept fighting, we just ran out of time. I could not be more proud of our guys.”

Davidson guard Foster Loyer (0) is briefly with Miles Bridges who played at Michigan State and is now with Charlotte Hornets after the game.

Michigan State started quickly, scoring the first five points and opening an 8-2 lead before Davidson started to settle in as both teams were hitting shots in the early going.

Hauser was good from the outset, hitting his only two attempts from 3-point range and playing effectively in the post, scoring 12 in the opening half. His spin on the block and dive for a layup gave the Spartans a 26-21 lead with 7:12 left in the half.

But the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run as Michigan State turned it over on two straight possessions. A jumper from Loyer and a pair of free throws bookended the run that ended with Max Christie hit a jumper from the wing. It was the start of six straight points for the Spartans, who led 32-29 after a Hauser bucket with 3:01 left.

The Spartans, however, were held scoreless the rest of the way as Davidson got a layup from Mennenga to cut the lead to 32-31. Hoggard missed a pair of free throws as Michigan State headed to the locker room with a one-point lead.

“We saw everybody on their team as a problem,” McKillop said. “Joey Hauser is a sensational player.  He makes his foul shots, he stretches the court, he made a couple of back-to-the-basket moves. So he did everything he possibly could, and he was terrific.”

Michigan State forward Gabe Brown (44) reacts with Michigan State guard Tyson Walker (2) after Walker sinks two free throws in the last minute of the game.

Both teams came out firing in the second half as Hauser led Michigan State with Brajkovic getting going after sitting most of the first half in foul trouble. Hauser scored seven in a row at one point for the Spartans and Brajkovic had six as the teams were tied, 43-43, with 14:53 to play.

Michigan State took an advantage from that point, opening a 49-45 lead and had a chance to expand it, but a Hauser three was short, Jaden Akins missed a dunk and Tyson Walker’s three was too strong. Davidson took advantage, scoring seven in a row to take a 52-49 lead with 9:40 left in the game.

The lead grew to 56-51 after a three-point play from Mennenga with 6:54 to play.

The Spartans then ripped off the decisive 10-0 run, taking a 61-56 lead with 3:38 to play as Hauser and Brown hit back-to-back threes and Hoggard hit a runner in the lane.

Michigan State's Marcus Bingham Jr. (30) and A.J. Hoggard (11) react after they get a lead in the second half.

“I was just trying to be aggressive and help towards our run,” Hoggard said. “I was trying to do everything in my power to get us going and get us back on track. It kind of got a little hectic in there with their fans, kind of had a home game for them. I was just trying give them my best, be aggressive, and things worked out.”

Michael Jones answered with a triple for Davidson but Julius Marble converted a three-point play with 3:01 left to put Michigan State up 64-59. Hauser then hit a pair of free throws and Brown split a pair before Davidson got back-to-back three-point trips around two more Hauser free throws to make it 69-65 MSU with 37.9 seconds left.

Two free throws from Hoggard pushed the lead to 71-65. Davidson cut it to 72-70 seconds later on a Loyer 3-pointer, but Walker made two free throws to secure the victory for Michigan State.

“We got Duke coming up,” Brown said. “We’re not worried about Duke. We’re worried about ourselves. We’re going to watch film tonight and just try to get better.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau