Michigan State’s Cassius Winston drives and dishes in the first half.
Des Moines, Iowa – Michigan State made its fans sweat, even reliving the misery that was the loss to Middle Tennessee State three years ago in the NCAA Tournament
But thanks to clutch shots in the final minutes, No. 2 Michigan State hung on to beat No. 15 Bradley, 76-65, in the first round of the East Region Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena. The Spartans advance to face No. 10 Minnesota on Saturday.
Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid and Aaron Henry all hit huge buckets in crunch time to help Michigan State (29-6) avoid the upset.
Winston scored 26 to lead Michigan State while Xavier Tillman had 16 points and 11 rebounds with McQuaid chipping in 11 for the Spartans.
Elijah Childs scored 19 points for Bradley (20-15), the tournament champions from the Missouri Valley Conference who were back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years. Darrell Brown added 17 points while Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye scored 14 as the Braves made nine 3-poitners to keep the game close.
It didn’t take Michigan State long to realize it was in a for a fight as Bradley jumped to a quick 10-4 lead, nailing a pair of 3-pointers. The Spartans responded with a 9-0 run to take a 13-10 lead, but the momentum would be short lived for Michigan State.
The Spartans could never pull away, going just 2-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half. Meanwhile, Bradley was busy hitting six of nine from long range, its final two giving the Braves a 35-34 lead at halftime after Michigan State failed to get a shot off on its final possession.
After Bradley scored the first four points of the second half, Michigan State went on a 10-0 run to take a 44-39 lead with 16:49 to play and pushed that advantage to 50-43, capping a 16-4 surge when Ward hit a pair of free throws.
But two straight turnovers led to five Bradley points in a matter of second followed by an offensive foul on Ward with 11:34 to play. Brown then buried a deep 3-pointer to give Bradley a 51-50 lead that went back and forth over the next few possessions with Tillman putting Michigan State ahead, 54-53, on a layup with 7:43 left in the game.
Winston then scored four straight to put Michigan State up, 58-55, with just more than four minutes to play. McQuaid then hit a 3-pointer from the wing followed by a jumper in the lane from Henry to give the Spartans a 63-55 lead with 2:41 to play.
Bradley ran out of gas from there as Michigan State went 25-for-26 from the free-throw line.