No.11 Michigan State struggled against Missouri's smothering full-court press all game long, but All-American Drew Neitzel came through in the clutch, helping MSU beat the Tigers 86-83 in the semifinals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City.
After scoring 16 points in a first half dominated by the Spartans (3-0), Neitzel had only five points in the second half, all coming with under two minutes to play.
He hit a big three pointer and sank two free-throws with 2.4 seconds left to help the Spartans fend off the Tigers (3-1), who kept it close up until the final buzzer thanks to a swarm of tough threes by guard Stefhon Hannah.
Neitzel finished with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting and Raymar Morgan went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field for 19 points but sat on the bench much of the second half with four fouls.
Goran Suton was a key player in the second half for the Spartans, scoring 17 points, majority of which came in the second half. Suton scored a huge basket with under a minute left after being left alone while Missouri was pressing.
Michigan State led by as many as 16 points in the first half and jumped all over the Tigers, leading at half 51-41.
The Spartans did a good job of breaking the Tigers' press in the first half but the second half was a different story, as sloppy passing and constant turnovers allowed Missouri to cut two double-digit Spartan leads in the second half.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Missouri's leading scorer DeMarre Carroll broke out for 14 points, pulling his team within two points with four minutes to play.
Carroll pulled the Tigers within one point at 72-71 with two minutes to play after recovering his own rebound and feeding Hannah outside for the three-pointer.
But after Kalin Lucas made a jumper and Missouri's Marshall Brown hit a free-throw to make it 74-72, Neitzel hit the big three, making it 77-72 and seemingly putting away the Tigers.
From there it was a free-throw game, as MSU kept making free-throws off intentional fouls, Stefhon Hannah would respond by making three three-pointers in the last two minutes, never letting MSU breath easily.
Hannah finished with 20 points on the night, most coming in the second half.
Missouri got back into the game by forcing turnovers with their full-court press but also their offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Carroll was a force inside the paint and really made it tough for the Spartans to get any clean rebounds.
The turnovers remain an area of concern for the Spartans.
But in the end the Tigers ran out of time and luck and Michigan State's All American made the big shots when they most needed them.
The Spartans now advance to face No.1 UCLA in the tournament finals on Tuesday night.
It will be the biggest test for both teams on the early season. UCLA will be without their All…