Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off just their second NCAA Tournament win ever, the 12th-seeded Harvard Crimson will challenge the fifth-seeded Michigan State Spartans in the third round of the East Regional at Spokane Arena.
A year after toppling No. 3 seed New Mexico, Harvard was at it again on Thursday, taking down No. 5 seed Cincinnati (61-57) for its second win in four all-time NCAA Tournament appearances. The Crimson will carry an overall win streak of nine games into Saturday's contest.
Michigan State struggled through the months of January and February, but, now that the team is healthy, it has returned to the form that had it ranked No. 1 in the country earlier in the campaign. The Spartans have won four straight games, including a 69-55 win over Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament title game, and a 93-78 rout of Delaware in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
The all-time series between these two programs is tied at 2-2, and this is the first meeting since Harvard claimed a 68-57 victory during the 1949-50 season.
Brandyn Curry hit a 3-pointer to give Harvard a 9-6 lead with 13:34 left in the first half against Cincinnati. The Crimson would never trail again, but never led by more than nine points, in a tightly-contested matchup that came down to free-throws. The Crimson hit enough, going 17-of-28 for the game and 11-of-18 in the final 20 minutes.
The deliberate pace at which Harvard played against Cincinnati fit perfectly with how it has played all year. The Crimson are 13th in the country in scoring defense (60.4 ppg), doing so by allowing 40.6 percent shooting to their opponents. They are also the top scoring team in the Ivy League (73.2 ppg), although that has still yielded modest offensive numbers in comparison to the rest of the country. Head coach Tommy Amaker has a deep and experienced lineup to rely upon, with Wesley Saunders (13.9 ppg), Siyani Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.5 apg), Steve Moundou-Missi (10.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Laurent Rivard (10 ppg) all important contributors from last year still making plays here in 2014.
Adreian Payne went off for a career-high 41 points, sinking 10-of-15 shots from the floor, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range as Michigan State eased past Delaware in the second round on Thursday. The Spartans connected on 53.6 percent of their field goals tries and claimed a 42-24 advantage on the glass.
Payne (16.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is one of several players for Tom Izzo's squad that was hampered by injury this season, but seems to be back to firing on all cylinders. He is the second-leading scorer on the team, following Gary Harris (16.9 ppg), who has been the most consistent force on the roster for the Spartans, scoring in double figures in 11 straight games entering Saturday's bout. Keith Appling (12 ppg, 4.7 apg) runs the point and is a real difference maker when playing to his potential, while Branden Dawson (10.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg) helps out Payne on the inside, providing both scoring and rebounding.