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Georgia Bulldogs falter in the final minute, lose to Michigan State in tourney opener 70-63
Michigan State's Branden Dawson, left, is fouled by Georgia's Marcus Thornton, right, during the second half of Friday's NCAA tournament game in Charlotte, N.C. - photo by Gerald Herbert

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At times, Michigan State showed off its tournament-tested look, getting out in transition and pushing back with poise after a run by its opponent.

At others, the Spartans were making mental mistakes and struggling to protect their late lead in a shaky finish that had coach Tom Izzo punching the scorer's table in fury.

"We're an interesting team," Izzo said.

And yet, Michigan State did enough to beat Georgia 70-63 on Friday in the NCAA Tournament's round of 64 behind veterans Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Branden Dawson.

Valentine scored 16 points, Trice had 15 and Dawson had a strong second half for the seventh-seeded Spartans (24-11), who proved Izzo right when he said Thursday that this team has a "very small" margin for error compared to some of its predecessors.

Michigan State led by 12 points with about 90 seconds left before Georgia (21-12) rallied to make it a one-possession game. Valentine went 6 for 6 at the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to help Michigan State advance to face No. 2 seed Virginia in Sunday's round of 32 in the East Region.

"You saw a lot of good minutes and then you saw some bizarre plays," Izzo said. "I think Georgia deserves some credit for that and we deserve some blame for that but we're doing what you're supposed to do in this tournament. We survived and we're advancing."

The Spartans showed at least glimpses of the experience from playing in 18 straight NCAA Tournaments. It was one of their biggest advantages against the 10th-seeded Bulldogs, who were in the field for the first time since 2011.

They led by 13 points at halftime, watched the Bulldogs rally within a basket, then responded with a 19-8 burst that put them back up by double figures. They did just enough late to stay in front about a week after blowing an 11-point lead in an overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament final.

"We've been in this situation before and there's been times where we kind of fell apart and we knew we couldn't do that this time," Trice said. "So we just wanted to stick together."

Charles Mann scored 19 points to lead Georgia, which rallied within 66-63 on Kenny Gaines' three-point play with 20.9 seconds left. But Valentine hit the third and fourth of his late free throws to make it a two-possession game again, then Mann missed a drive to set up Valentine's final free throws.

"They played like a team that's been here before," said Georgia's Marcus Thornton, who had 12 points while battling second-half foul trouble. "So when you're playing against a team like that, there's only a very limited margin for error. So it kind of caught up to us in the end."


Georgia: The Bulldogs made 7 of 25 shots (28 percent) before halftime. ... The Bulldogs shot 33 percent for the game. ... Georgia took a 43-35 rebounding advantage. ... Charles Johnson, a defensive end with the Carolina Panthers here in Charlotte, attended the game. He played at Georgia.

Michigan State: Outside of Valentine's 6-for-6 day at the line, the rest of the Spartans hit 5 of 13. ... Michigan State made 7 of 18 3-point tries. ... Bryn Forbes added 14 points, including a four-point play for a 58-45 lead with 7:16 left. ... Former Spartans great Magic Johnson sat a few rows behind the Michigan State bench.


Dawson had a quiet first half with two fouls, but had all of his 14 points and six rebounds after halftime — including consecutive three-point plays shortly after Georgia's 10-0 run cut Michigan State's lead to 39-37.


Gaines, Georgia's No. 2 scorer and top perimeter defender, finished with 15 points, including two 3-pointers, despite playing with a sprained left foot that sidelined him for the regular-season finale and the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.

"There's no way to get him 100 percent right now," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "I thought under the circumstances, it's very hard to play this game when you don't practice, extremely hard to maintain your conditioning, your timing, and everything else that you need to do. Under the circumstances, I thought he gave us a heck of an effort."


Georgia: season is complete.

Michigan State: will play Virginia on Sunday.

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