Goran Suton chipped in with 16 points and eight rebounds and Marquise Gray added eight points and four rebounds for the winners.
MSU came out ice cold and at one point trailed by sixteen points after freshman Isaiah Dahlman missed a three-point shot and Grand Valley converted a fast break bucket by forward Jason Jamerson.
But MSU turned up the defense and went on an 11-0 run to end the half down just five.
After a string of second half turnovers, MSU found themselves down 42-29 in the second half but a Marquise Gray dunk ignited an 11-4 run to cut the Lakers lead to just four.
Travis Walton's jumper with 3:14 left gave MSU its first lead of the game. Drew Naymick's put back of a Neitzel missed three pointer gave MSU its biggest lead of the game at 57-52. The Spartans hung on for the win down the stretch as Suton and Nietzel made three straight free throws in the waining seconds.
Nietzel finished the game 7-for-14 from the field and 9-of-9 from the free throw line while adding four assists. MSU shot just 44.2% from the field to Grand Valley's 46.3% but the Spartans made 18-of-20 from the free throw line compared to the Lakers 11-of-12 which proved to be the difference in the game.
"Drew Neitzel, who was the one guy we thought pretty much we can't let beat us, pretty much did," said Grand Valley coach Ric Wesley.
"He had a great game, shot the ball well and we didn't make a good enough adjustment on him so my hats off to him."
MSU's head coach Tom Izzo admitted to being distracted by the events surrounding the dismissal of football coach John L. Smith.
"I must tell you that with all the things that went on back home, I'm not sure I did as good a job, but before I talk about our team I think you do have to give a lot of credit to Grand Valley and Ric (Wesley). He's a good friend of mine. I think he's a very good coach, and I think he had his team well prepared to play."
Izzo said he was happy for Neitzel, playing before his hometown crowd in Grand Rapids.
"He's got two years worth of pent-up in him, where we didn't rely on him, and that's who he is. We didn't do a good job getting it to him, and he forced a few early, but I don't blame him. He's home, and he hasn't had that freedom for two years. I was mostly pleased with how Drew played, considering the rest of us didn't play so good."
But MSU may have found a player in Suton, the Lansing Everett standout who converted 5-of-7 from the field and was 6-of-6 from the line starting at the power forward position. Of the freshman, Dahlman played 13 minutes and did not score.