East Lansing — Eron Harris was on fire Sunday night at Breslin Center, scoring 31 points, more than he’s ever scored for the Spartans.
But no one was talking about Harris’ play after No. 13 Michigan State’s 78-77 win over Florida Gulf Coast. Instead, it was the way the game ended that was the hot topic.
In a finish that had the Eagles hopping mad and the Spartans happy to escape with a win, a timing error led to a couple minutes of uncertainty.
The 13th-ranked Spartans (2-2) were hosting Florida Gulf Coast in an on-campus game to begin this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis that shifts to the Bahamas on Wednesday, and with a one-point lead and 1.6 seconds left on the game clock, things started to get chaotic.
Florida Gulf Coast had just rebounded the second of two free-throw misses from Harris and called timeout with 2.4 seconds left and a chance to pull off the upset.
The Eagles had to inbound the ball from under their own basket, meaning they’d have to go the length of the court. The first pass from Christian Terrell was batted away by Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, leaving 1.6 seconds on the clock.
On Terrell’s second inbound pass, he launched the ball down the court and it was caught by Antravious Simmons in front of Michigan State’s Kenny Goins. As Simmons went to shoot the ball, the horn sounded, clearly before 1.6 seconds had elapsed.
Simmons’ shot went long, but chaos ensued and the officials went to review the play. After a few minutes, they announced the game was over and Michigan State had won.
Tom Izzo talks about Michigan State's win over Florida Gulf Coast and needing more from his guard. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Lead official Bo Boroski explained afterward what had transpired.
“A timing error occurred with 1.6 seconds remaining on the game clock,” Boroski said. “Since a timing error occurred, we are able to utilize the replay monitor. A stopwatch was used to determine if any time should remain on the game clock. Using a stopwatch, it was determined the ball was caught and released in 1.3 seconds, meaning if the shot would have gone in, it would have counted. After the miss there was no time remaining in the game, therefore ending the game. By rule the possession cannot be replayed.”
Who started the clock prematurely was not clear. Boroski simply said the start of the game clock is controlled by the three game officials and the timekeeper and knowing which one started the clock is unclear.
“All four of us have the capability,” Boroski said. “When the timing error occurred it allowed us to utilize the monitor. That’s when we break out the stopwatch. At that point, as the statement read, we have to determine what’s the … because play didn’t stop. If that try is released after the 1.6 we are going to wave it off. If that try is released before the 1.6 we are going to count it. It was determined it was released before the 1.6, we were prepared to count it. It did not go in, and using the stopwatch we didn’t need to put any time back on the clock because it had expired.”
It wasn’t much consolation to Florida Gulf Coast (1-3) which battled Michigan State the entire game and led 68-64 with 3:43 to play. After Michigan State tied it at 68, a 3-pointer by Zach Johnson put the Eagles up 71-68 with 2:52 left.
Michigan State's Eron Harris talks about his 31 points against Florida Gulf Coast. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
However, the Spartans rallied, eventually taking a 78-75 lead after two free throws from Bridges with 16 seconds left. Terrell hit a running layup with 8 seconds to play to trim the margin to one before Harris was fouled and missed both free throws to set up the final sequence.
“I thought it was a great college game,” Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley said. “Great atmosphere. I’m proud of the way our guys competed. Obviously disappointed with the ending. We put ourselves in some spots that we shouldn’t, but that’s what happens when you play a really good team, and Michigan State is a really good team.”
Harris had his best game as a Spartan, falling short of a career-high 33 he scored as a sophomore at West Virginia. The senior was 6-for-6 from 3-point range and 10-for-15 overall on a night Bridges struggled and finished with 13 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
“I want to be consistent in what I do,” said Harris, who was 5-for-10 from the free-throw line. “I'm disappointed that I missed the free throws but I'm not going to get too down.”
Michigan State was outrebounded for the first time this season, 41-29, and allowed 24 second-chance points.
“We found a way to lose at Arizona and we probably played worse against Arizona than we did tonight,” Michigan State coach Izzo said. “Maybe the good news is tonight we learned how to win. I thought against Arizona we found a way to lose. Tonight they hit that big 3 and we had to find a way to win and we did. That gonna help us a lot, too. It will help our confidence, it will do a lot things.”
Simmons and Brandon Goodwin scored 18 each for Florida Gulf Coast while RaySean Scott added 14 points.
Michigan State now heads to the Bahamas where it will play St. Johns at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.