Adreian Payne scored 26 points and No. 2 Michigan State avoided a stunning upset Friday night, holding off Columbia 62-53 in the final minutes.,
The Spartans (3-0) beat top-ranked Kentucky earlier in the week, and they'll have a chance to move to the top of next week's AP Top 25, but only after trailing for a majority of the second half against the poised, patient Lions (1-2).
Maodo Lo had 12 points for Columbia.
Michigan State scored the game's first nine points, but the Spartans trailed 26-22 at halftime and didn't lead again until Gary Harris' three-point play put Michigan State ahead 49-46 with 7:28 to go.
The Spartans held Columbia without a field goal for the final 4:27.
Columbia's Meiko Lyles made a 3-pointer with 6:08 to go to tie it at 51, and the Lions trailed 54-53 after a layup by Alex Rosenberg, but they didn't score again.
Down 55-53, Columbia committed back-to-back shot clock violations. The Lions may have been thrown off by the Michigan State crowd, which was counting the clock down falsely — a couple seconds too late.
Still, Columbia had a chance to tie it with 1:47 to go, but Isaac Cohen missed the front end of a one-and-one. At the other end, Keith Appling drove into the teeth of the Columbia defense and lobbed an alley-oop to Payne that made it 57-53.
Michigan State hasn't been No. 1 in the AP poll since 2001, the year after the Spartans won the national championship.
The Spartans were obviously in danger of a letdown after beating top-ranked Kentucky earlier in the week, but they appeared to avoid that when they opened the game on a 9-0 run.
But perhaps the game was a little too easy for Michigan State at the start. The Spartans ended up shooting 35 percent in the first half, and Columbia got comfortable quickly.
Rosenberg's layup capped a 9-0 run for the Lions that put them ahead 14-11, and Michigan State had a hard time shaking them after that.
Payne had 11 rebounds and shot 9 of 15 from the field. The Spartans attempted 30 free throws to Columbia's 11, but although they had some success inside in the second half, they finished 0 of 7 from 3-point range.
Harris scored 11 points and Denzel Valentine had 10.
Cohen and Rosenberg had 10 points each for the Lions.