Thanks to Kalin Lucas’ career night, Raymar Morgan’s late help — and a huge assist from the officials — Michigan State is moving on in yet another NCAA tournament.
Lucas scored a career-high 25 points and Morgan emerged from a quiet night by hitting key shots down the stretch as fifth-seeded Michigan State edged No. 12 New Mexico State 70-67 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Morgan broke a late tie with four straight points, then made two free throws with 18.6 seconds remaining with the aid of a rare lane-violation call.
Still, it was an uneven game for the Spartans (25-8), a microcosm of their at-times dazzling, other times dumbfounding season following a loss to North Carolina in last year’s national championship game.
Troy Gillenwater scored 17 points, including a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left that got New Mexico State (22-12) within 68-67.
On the other end, Morgan made his first free throw and missed the second. But with the Spartans heading downcourt to defend an apparent two-point lead, official Ray Perone called either New Mexico State’s Wendell McKines or Gillenwater — or both — for a violation for stepping into the lane too early on the shot.
Morgan converted his gift second chance to put the Spartans up 70-67.
Jonathan Gibson then missed a long 3-pointer with seconds left, and Hernst Laroche missed another one that would have tied it with 0.3 seconds left.
Draymond Green intercepted the final inbounds pass and slammed the ball onto the court in celebration as the buzzer sounded, the crowd booed — and Michigan State fans exhaled.
New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies had to be restrained by his assistants from going after the officials after the wild ending.
Gibson had 16 points for New Mexico State, which won seven of nine games — including the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship — to get here.
The Aggies made 10 of their first 12 shots in the second half to erase Michigan State’s 42-29 halftime lead in 8 1/2 minutes.
Jahmar Young, the Aggies’ leading scorer at 20 points per game who said Thursday his team was coming at the Spartans with an “assassin’s mentality,” fired away after an 0-for-4 first half marred by his three fouls. He scored six quick points. Gibson sweetly swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key and then crow-hopped over the Aggies getting to within 44-42.
As they have at times all season, the Spartans largely disappeared during the run. Their only basket in the first 4 minutes of the half was the first bucket of the game from Morgan, their second-leading scorer coming in. And third-leading scorer Durrell Summers didn’t make a field goal from the 16-minute mark of the first half until 12:42 remained.
Good thing for Michigan State that Lucas, a two-time all-Big Ten selection, kept going.
As the game turned taut, Jud Heathcote, the 82-year-old Spokane resident and predecessor and mentor to Spartans coach Tom Izzo, was slapping his knee and yelling for Spartans shots to “get in the basket!”
Yet most that did were New Mexico State’s. When Gordo Castillo made a 3 from the corner, the Aggies had their first lead since 3-2 at 53-52 with 11:37 remaining. He and Young pumped their fists as fans in maroon — and some of the locals warming to the underdog — roared.
Lucas briefly limped into the locker room with a trainer with 6 minutes left and the Spartans down by two. He returned to replace Chris Allen, who collapsed with an apparent right ankle injury as Morgan scored inside to tie it at 61.
Morgan, silent for most of the night, made two free throws, then soared for a dunk and a snarl to put the Spartans up 67-63 with 1:54 remaining.
After McKines made a free throw for the Aggies, Young fouled out while reaching in against Lucas 40 feet from the basket with 51.8 seconds to go. Young fell to the floor grabbing his groin and rolled on the court after the contact, while Spartans fans chanted “Ka-lin Lu-cas!”
Lucas made the second free throw to put Michigan State up by four.
New Mexico State took a long time to settle on a shot before Laroche had a 3-pointer rim out with 25 seconds left, and after a loose ball out of bounds to the Aggies and a timeout, Gillenwater sank a rainbow 3-pointer from the wing to get the Aggies within 68-67.
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