March 22, 2014 in Sports

Strong Spartans ready for hardworking Harvard

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Containing Adreian Payne (5) will be key for Harvard.
(Full-size photo)

The Michigan State players said all the right things Friday afternoon.

Asked about the challenges of tonight’s NCAA third-round East Regional game at the Arena against 12th-seeded Harvard, forward Branden Dawson praised the Crimson’s teamwork, patience on offense and an ability to avoid mistakes.

“If we don’t jump on them early it’s going to be a long game for us,” Spartans guard Gary Harris said.

That’s precisely what a talented Cincinnati team didn’t do in a second-round game Thursday, a wire-to- wire 61-57 Harvard win that would have been even more convincing had the Crimson hit more free throws.

Michigan State figures to avoid that scenario tonight by taking the ball down low and challenging the Crimson to do something about it.

The Spartans outrebounded Delaware 42-24 on Thursday – “that’s our bread and butter,” guard Keith Appling said – but it was made possible with a little mustard from forward Adreian Payne; he hit a trio of early 3-pointers to unhinge the Blue Hens defense.

“They’re incredibly balanced, and they’re playing their best right now,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said of the Spartans.

Payne finished the Delaware game with 41 points, a postseason record in the storied history of MSU basketball. A projected first-round NBA draft pick, as is Harris, Payne will get plenty of attention tonight – to a point.

Said Harvard guard Wesley Saunders, “We don’t really worry too much about what they do, necessarily. We just try to stick to our standards and principles and do the things that have gotten us to this point.”

That means taking care of the ball and crashing the offensive boards. The Crimson didn’t do that against Cincinnati, suffering 12 turnovers and giving getting just nine offensive rebounds.

That won’t be enough against Michigan State, which also has a big depth advantage; nine Spartans played at least nine minutes against the Blue Hens, and all but one of them got at least two boards.

“I don’t think tomorrow is about stopping Adreian Payne, it’s about stopping Michigan State,” Harvard forward Steve Moundou-Missi said.

The other challenge is mental. A year ago, after a landmark first-round win over third-seeded New Mexico, the Crimson “didn’t turn the page quickly enough,” according to senior guard Laurent Rivard. The result was a 74-51 third-round loss to Arizona.

“We made sure to do it differently this year,” Rivard said. “It helped that we played earlier yesterday during the day, so we could enjoy the victory for a couple of hours and then we knew we had to turn the page and start getting ready for Michigan State.”

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