Auburn Hills, MI – Freshman Gary Harris scored a career-high 23 points, as Michigan State stifled Memphis in the second half en route to a 70-48 victory in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Adreian Payne posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Derrick Nix donated 13 points and eight boards to help the Spartans advance to their fifth Sweet 16 in the last six seasons.
"It's part of the goal because we need to get to the Sweet 16 to get to the Final Four and eventually a championship," Harris said of the victory. "We're going to enjoy it on the way back, but then once we get to East Lansing, it's time to get back to work."
Michigan State (27-8), seeded third in the Midwest Region, will next play the winner between Duke and Creighton. The second-seeded Blue Devils and seventh- seeded Bluejays face off on Sunday night.
Geron Johnson paced Memphis (31-5) with 16 points, while Joe Jackson added 12 for the Tigers, who slipped past St. Mary's in the second round to earn their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2009.
With the game tied 6-6 over six minutes in, Harris started heating up, as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year knocked down four 3-pointers en route to 14 points during a 20-7 MSU spurt that staked the Spartans to a 13-point edge with eight minutes left in the half.
Memphis would retaliate, however, as Adonis Thomas finished back-to- back buckets and Johnson added a pair of triples as part of a 12-2 Memphis spurt that brought the Tigers within three, which is where the margin stood as the teams went into the locker room.
But the Tigers would get no closer, as Michigan State allowed just one Memphis field goal nearly nine minutes through the second stanza, which let the Spartans create some separation.
Payne capped Michigan State's half-opening 13-3 surge with back-to-back dunks before D.J. Stephens drained a 3-pointer to quell the Memphis field goal drought and bring the Tigers within 45-35 with 11:01 remaining.
Jackson followed with a jumper to trim the margin to single digits, but Payne bookended a quick 7-0 sprint with a pair of buckets to push the MSU lead to 52-37 with just over nine minutes left.
Michigan State closed the contest on a 12-2 run to pull away late, as a Johnson triple with 5:39 left marked the final field goal of the contest for Memphis, which shot a woeful 23.3 percent (7-for-30) from the floor in the second half.
"We just had a stretch there in that second half where we just couldn't score...just couldn't put the ball in the basket," Memphis coach Josh Pastner admitted. "Unfortunately today we didn't shoot the ball well and that makes it that much tougher."
MSU improved to 56-25 all-time in the NCAA Tournament ... Memphis had won 25 of its last 26 games overall ... Michigan State had lost the only two previous meetings against Memphis, including a 92-74 setback in the 2008 Sweet 16 ... Memphis shot 29.7 percent (19-for-64) overall ... Michigan State shot 50 percent (26-for-52) from the floor.