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Spartans survive scare

Keith Appling, left, and Adreian Payne head off the court in celebration after Michigan State withstands a Harvard rally.

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Keith Appling, left, and Adreian Payne head off the court in celebration after Michigan State withstands a Harvard rally.

SPOKANE, Wash. — For 18 seconds Saturday, it was happening. Harvard owned basketball, too.

The school that churns out U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, billionaire CEOs and Nobel Peace Prize winners was taking a serious run at altering the discourse on this year's NCAA Tournament, as well.

Harvard guard Laurent Rivard made a 3-pointer from the corner, looped his thumb and finger together around his eye — the "3-point goggles" — and flashed a determined glare toward a group of Crimson fans in the stands who were coming unhinged. The Ivy Leaguers had overcome a 16-point deficit to take a two-point lead over Michigan State, a team that often comes up big on college basketball's biggest stage.

The next time down the floor, Spartans guard Travis Trice came back with a 3 to put his team back in the lead. A few minutes later, Michigan State was out of danger — not by much, though — on the way to an 80-73 victory that sent Harvard home, but not without making a statement.

"We showed everybody that we can come all year and play with the best," sophomore guard Siyani Chambers said.

Led by a career-high 26 points from Branden Dawson, the fourth-seeded Spartans (28-8) moved onto the Sweet 16 for the 12th time in the past 17 seasons. They play Virginia or Memphis on Friday at Madison Square Garden.

A lot of fans thought 12th-seeded Harvard could win its first game against No. 5 Cincinnati. But even President Obama had picked Michigan State to eliminate his law school on the way to the national title.

Even in a loss, Harvard (27-5) hoops proved it is here to stay.

"I thought our kids competed," coach Tommy Amaker said. "We knew we would."

The program Amaker took over seven years ago was in its third straight NCAA Tournament and two nights removed from only the second March Madness win in school history. Last year, the encore was a disheartening 23-point loss to Arizona. This time, it was something much different against an opponent that might have been even better.

"That's one thing Coach Amaker talks about, that we're not just built for the Ivy League, we're built to go past that," junior forward Jonah Travis said. "That's one of our main goals, to match up with teams like that and beat teams like that."

UCONN 77, VILLANOVA 65: Shabazz Napier scored 25 to lead the seventh-seeded Huskies over the second-seeded Wildcats in Buffalo, N.Y.

Villanova became the highest seed to be knocked out of the tournament.

In the Sweet 16, Connecticut (28-8) plays the winner of today's game between Iowa State and North Carolina.

Ryan Arcidiacono scored 18 for Villanova (29-5) in a matchup of former Big East rivals. The Huskies are now in the American Athletic Conference.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie improved to 2-0 in his tournament debut, two years since taking over after Jim Calhoun stepped down because of health issues and a year after the Huskies were barred from postseason play because of academic sanctions.

Spartans survive scare 03/22/14 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:47am]

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