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Michigan State fights off Harvard to advance to Sweet 16

Branden Dawson, Michigan State SpartansBranden Dawson's career-high night powered the Spartans to yet another regional semifinal berth. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

SPOKANE — If Thursday night belonged to Adreian Payne, Saturday was all Branden Dawson.

Dawson turned in a career-high 26-point performance and fourth-seeded Michigan State held off a feisty Harvard team, 80-73, to advance to the Sweet 16. On Friday, the Spartans will meet the winner of Memphis vs. Virginia in the East Regional at Madison Square Garden. It is Michigan State’s sixth trip to the Sweet 16 in the last seven years.

Down double digits most of the game and by 16 with just under 16 minutes to go, Harvard tied it at 55 less than seven minutes later, then took the lead, 62-60, on a corner three from Laurent Rivard at the 7:10 mark. Michigan State responded by hitting three-pointers on three of its next four possessions from Travis Trice, Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine to go ahead by eight. The Crimson never got closer than four points the rest of the way.

Harvard, which upset fifth-seeded Cincinnati in the round of 64, hung around in the first half and trailed by 14 at the break. The Spartans were better at every position, but they couldn’t put the game away until the final minute.

The Crimson had the ball down by five with under 45 seconds remaining, but Michigan State's Keith Appling, on the bench for much of Harvard’s run, got the ball back by picking the pocket of Crimson point guard Siyani Chambers, then went to the line and hit both free throws to give the Spartans some breathing room. Michigan State hit 6-of-6 from the line in the final 40 seconds to ice the game.

Wesley Saunders led Harvard with 22 points.

Dawson, the Big Ten Tournament’s most outstanding player, scored early, often and easily (12-of-15 from the field), using floaters and dunks to tally 20 first half points. He also grabbed nine rebounds. Harris handed out five assists and grabbed four steals to go with his 18 points. Payne, who scored a career-high 41 on Thursday against Delaware, finished with 12.

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