Auburn HILLS, Mich. - Making the round of 16 is something Michigan State fans expect from a Tom Izzo coached team. Saturday, Izzo gave the fans what they wanted by guiding the Spartans to a 70-48 victory over Memphis and into the round of 16.
Despite heated words between Keith Appling and Derrick Nix, Michigan State kept their poise using a 23-point performance from freshman Gary Harris in the win that will see them play the winner of Sunday’s match-up between Duke and Creighton next Friday in the Midwest Regional semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Harris would score 16 of his career-high 23 points in the first half fought foul trouble in the second half. However, Harris was not alone as point guard Travis Trice also found himself with four fouls causing concern when Appling went down.
Izzo knows his team survived against a team he was concerned about.
“I will say this, that team worried me as much as any team we played,” said Izzo. “I think they’re tough, they’re strong. They did a hell of a job the first half on the offensive boards. They turned us over. For a guy (Josh Pastner) that’s just, you know, been grinding his teeth coming through a program where the level it was at, I think he’s done an incredible job.”
With Harris out, the Spartans received a spark from an unlikely source in Adreian Payne. The junior from Dayton, Ohio answered the bell when Harris went out scoring six of the Spartans next eight points.
For his effort Payne received a compliment and the respect of Tigers coach Josh Pastner who feels the big man can carry the Spartans to the Final Four.
Those hopes may rest on the shoulder of Appling who went down with a shoulder injury. However, Izzo thinks he’ll be ready.
“He said he could have gone back in,” said Izzo. “I think he could have gone back in on guts alone, which worries me a little bit because he wasn’t. Coach, you know, put me in. I mean, Cleaves threatened me, so I just said go ahead. He didn’t threaten me, you know, he just kind of, I can go, Coach, you know, and I just didn’t think it was the right time.”
Who will the Spartans play next?
That question will be answered Sunday when Duke and Creighton battle for their chance to make the round of 16.