The fifth-seeded Spartans couldn't pull away until the final minutes, but they did when Shannon Brown made a spinning layup to start a three-point play that helped Michigan State beat Old Dominion 89-81 on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State (23-6) managed to avoid a second consecutive first-round exit and instead gave Izzo, whose NCAA winning percentage is second only to Mike Krzyzewski's, his 20th tournament win. The Spartans will face now face 13th-seeded Vermont, who stunned 4th ranked Syracuse 60-57 in overtime to advance to the second round Sunday afternoon in Worcester, Mass.
Old Dominion (28-6), champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, last advanced in the NCAAs when they beat Villanova in triple overtime in the opening round of the 1995 tournament. They gave the Big Ten Spartans all they could handle, but in the end it wasn't enough.
"Coming into the game, we knew we all belonged," Old Dominion guard Kiah Thomas said. "When I first got to ODU, we were always unsure whether we were going to win night in and night out. We really didn't know. Tonight every man, to a man, believed."
Alan Anderson led the Spartans with 15 points, followed by Paul Davis (14), while Shannon Brown, Kelvin Torbert and Maurice Ager each scored 13 in what was a balanced offensive attack. Michigan State shot 57 percent (29-for-51) from the floor in the game, and that was despite making just three of 14 shots from 3-point range.
Alex Loughton had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for Old Dominion while spending much of the second half in the foul trouble. Drew Williamson, who did not have a turnover in 91 minutes in the CAA tournament, had three on Friday.
Old Dominion held a 42-37 lead at the half, hitting 16-of-30 shots along the way. However, the Spartans cranked up the defensive pressure in the second half, holding the Monarchs to just 10-of-31 from the field (.323) while going 16-of-28 (.571) on their end after the half to grab control of the game.
Michigan State, who hit just 50 percent of the free throws in their Big Ten Tournament loss to Iowa last week hit 28-of-36 free throws (.778) versus the Monarchs. The Spartans went 6-for-6 from the line down the stretch to clinch it.
The Spartans now face another scrappy underdog in the Vermont Catamounts. The Catamounts (25-6), champions of the American East Conference, who stunned Syracuse, 60-57 in overtime Friday night to earn the right to play the Spartans Sunday.
The Catamounts are no strangers to the NCAA's however, as this is their 3rd straight trip to the Big Dance, and look to extend their stay in the tourney this season to send their retiring Head Coach Tom Brennan out in style.