Spartans Survive Battle with Ole Miss
March 14, 1999
MILWAUKEE (AP) - One by one, Mateen Cleaves heard the upsets: Utah, Cincinnati, Miami. Then he'd look up at the scoreboard and see his own Michigan State team threatening to join the list of big-name flops.
Enough is enough, he finally decided. The top-seeded Spartans had worked too hard to get this far, and the All-American wasn't about to let them blow it. So he scored seven points and had two assists during a late 13-0 run Sunday that helped Michigan State hold off feisty Mississippi 74-66 in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
"I was like, 'All these teams are getting upset and we're in a tight game.' So it was in the back of my head for a little bit," said Cleaves, who led the Spartans with 18 points. "(Stepping up) is sort of my role on this team. The guys sort of give me that look. I just try to turn it up and, thank God, my shots went in down the stretch."
Andre Hutson had 13 points and Morris Peterson, making just his fourth start of the year, had 11. It was the 20th straight victory for the Spartans (31-4).
Jason Smith had 18 and Marcus Hicks 16 for the ninth-seeded Rebels (20-13), who got their first NCAA victory on Friday.
"I've been saying all year long, they're going to have to look at something to change because there are so many teams capable of being in this tournament," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "If that's a nine seed, that's a very, very good nine seed.
"We earned that win, I can guarantee you that."
As the final seconds ticked down, the large contingent of Spartan fans started chanting "Sweet 16, Sweet 16." Michigan State will play Oklahoma next weekend in the Midwest Regional semifinals in St. Louis.
The Sooners upset fifth-seeded University of North Carolina-Charlotte 85-72 earlier Sunday to become just the third 13th seed to advance to the round of 16.
Despite a decided size disadvantage, Mississippi almost gave Michigan State more than it could handle. The Rebels crashed the boards, hustled for every loose ball and their run-and-gun style seemed to frustrate the Spartans.
But after 5-foot-5 Ryan Harrison hit a 3-pointer over Cleaves to give Ole Miss a 59-56 lead with 4:54 left, Cleaves had had it. He launched his own 3 to tie the game, and then scored on a layup.
After dishing to Antonio Smith, he came up with what might have been the biggest play of the game. With Ole Miss needing a basket to quiet the Spartans and their fans, Cleaves tipped a Rebel pass and then sprinted downcourt for a layup.
After a Mississippi timeout, Cleaves fed Peterson for a jumper. Two free throws from A.J. Granger completed the 13-0 run.
"If they don't come down and make a 3 and we stop them, we may be talking about the way we're playing," Mississippi coach Rod Barnes said. "The effort was there. The intensity was there. We have nothing to be ashamed of."
The Spartans - perhaps feeling the pressure of the No. 1 seed - looked tight for most of the game. Cleaves had five turnovers in the first half alone - one less than he had in the entire Big Ten tournament. Hutson and Granger each had three fouls before halftime.
And Mississippi took advantage. Jason Smith scored 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game as the Rebels jumped out to a 20-14 lead.
"We knew we could match their talent, but we had to match their intensity," Antonio Smith said of the Rebels. "They came out very aggressive in the first half and they were taking it to us. Second half, we got more aggressive on defense."
Fueled by Hutson's five points, the Spartans opened the final period with a 13-4 run that gave them a 42-36 lead with 15:03 left. But anytime the Spartans seemed to be on the verge of a game-breaking run, the scrappy Rebels found some way to come back.
Hicks scored five points to cut Michigan State's lead to 50-48 with 8:54 left, and Carter tied the game at 54 on a driving layup. Then Harrison intercepted a Cleaves pass and dished to Jason Smith, who drove, hesitated and then put up the easy layup for a 56-54 lead with 5:50 left.
On the next possession, Harrison launched his fateful 3 that woke up Cleaves.
"We call that money time," Cleaves said with a grin.
By NANCY ARMOUR
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