Michigan State defeated the upstart Vermont Catamounts, 72-61, Sunday afternoon in Worcester, Massachusetts to advance to next weekend's Austin (TX) regional to face the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils Friday night.
The Spartans were led by the performances of juniors Maurice Ager and Paul Davis. Ager had a team-high 19 points, while Paul Davis had 11 points and 14 rebounds for Michigan State (24-6). Two other Spartans hit for double figures as well as Kelvin Torbert scored 14 and Alan Anderson went for 11, including 7-of-8 from the foul line.
The Catamounts were led by their senior guard T.J. Sorrentine, who scored a game-high 26 points. However, Sorrentine only made 6-of-15 shots from 3-point range and had little help from his teammates.
The Spartan defense did an excellent job on the Catamounts' top scorer, Taylor Coppenrath. He came into the game averaging 25.7 points and 8.9 rebounds; but the Michigan State trio of Davis, Matt Trannon and Drew Naymick held him to just – 5-of-23 shooting – to finish with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Ten of Coppenrath's boards were on offense and many of those came on his own misses, including three-consecutive misses during the games final minute.
In the end, the Spartans speed and athleticism wore down the Catamounts, but Vermont proved that their first ever NCAA tourney victory Friday night over Syracuse was no fluke.
Sorrentine came out of the blocks firing and hit consecutive 3-pointers to give Vermont a 6-2 lead and then scored the Cats' last 10 points of the first half; the last two coming on a layup which gave Vermont a 28-27 lead with 2:57 left in the half. Michigan State responded with a 8-0 run to end the half with a 35-28 lead.
Paul Davis made the first basket of the second half to make it 10 in a row and give the Spartans a 37-28 lead.
From there, Michigan State led by as many as 14 points, but Vermont made its last best run to cut it to 62-53 on Sorrentine's 3-pointer with 4:39 left. But Davis made a jumper and then Drew Naymick dunked to extend the lead to double digits; by the time Vermont closed within 10 again, there were just 73 seconds left in their season.
Coppenrath missed three times under the basket with 30 seconds left, and Davis grabbed the rebound to allow Michigan State to run out the clock.
Two other Big Ten schools advanced with Michigan State into the round of 16 this weekend. Top-ranked Illinois defeated Farleigh Dickinson (67-55) and Nevada (71-59) to advance to the Chicago regional next weekend versus UW-Milwaukee; while Wisconsin beat Northern Iowa (57-52) and Bucknell (71-62) to move on to the Syracuse regional next weekend to face North Carolina State.
Duke (27-5) beat Mississippi State Sunday, 63-55, to advance to the Austin Regional; their game against the Spartans is scheduled to tip off at 7:10 pm next Friday night, March 25.