CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With just over two minutes left, Michigan State had a 12-point lead over Georgia and what seemed to be a firm grip on their NCAA Tournament second-round game Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena. But when Kenny Gaines' three-point play cut Georgia's deficit to three with 20.9 seconds left, it became a one-possession game.
The veteran Spartans flashed back to last Sunday, when they blew an 11-point second-half lead over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship game.
"Myself, Travis [Trice] and Denzel [Valentine] have been in this position many times," Michigan State forward Branden Dawson said. "Against Wisconsin, we didn't keep our poise, but we kept our poise today."
The Spartans didn't get caught in the undertow of second-round upsets as Valentine converted six straight foul shots at the end of a 70-63 victory that put Michigan State into a third-round game Sunday against Virginia.
This seventh-seeded Michigan State team isn't as talented as many of Tom Izzo's past teams, but the coach said, "We've had chemistry all year . . . We're not playing as smart as we need to play in certain situations, and it's cost us. But it was fun to listen to the players say, 'OK, remember what we learned in the Wisconsin game.' You can learn from it."
Michigan State's history is that it's a tough out in March, and that was the case against Georgia (21-12), which took an early six-point lead. The Spartans (24-11) took control with a 15-3 run on the way to a 13-point halftime lead. When the Bulldogs cut that to two points in the second half, Michigan State responded with a 21-10 surge that pushed it to 60-47 with 5:59 left.
Dawson, who was scoreless in the first half, had 10 of his 14 points in that stretch. Veterans Trice (15 points, six assists) and Valentine (16 points, six rebounds, six assists) played as if they'd been there, and Michigan State got a 14-point lift from Bryn Forbes.
Charles Mann led Georgia with 19 points and backcourt partner Gaines contributed 15 while playing on a sprained ankle, which made it tough to guard Trice.
"I do think the injury to Gaines was big," Izzo said. "I watched him warm up, and he was limping . . . I thought our fast break was the difference in the game. Once they cut the lead in the second half, we got a couple quick buckets off the break, and that was the difference."