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Michigan State survives late challenge, bounces Georgia in NCAA tourney opener

Day two of the Big Ten in the NCAA tournament got off to a heart-stopping start thanks to a Michigan State team who let No. 10-seed Georgia nearly complete a late comeback. Instead, the Spartans got it together in the final seconds and bounced the Bulldogs out in a 70-63 win.

There was no bigger player for Tom Izzo’s crew than Denzel Valentine, who went 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds of the game. He poured in 16 points overall in the winning effort, but none were bigger than those free throws.

With the Spartans clinging to a three-point lead, Valentine continued to ice the game at the free throw line and pull his team out of the fire of a mild upset at the hands of the SEC’s Georgia Bulldogs.

Senior guard Travis Trice also was clutch at a needed time, putting up 15 points of his own and they got some key second half help from Branden Dawson during a 13-4 stretch that allowed Michigan State to pull far enough away for a comeback to not complete itself in the final minutes.

Michigan State had a 10-point lead with 1:16 to play, but allowed Georgia to get within 66-63 with just 28 seconds left to play. That’s where Valentine stepped up to the plate, hitting four free throws in the final 21 seconds to ice away the contest.

Georgia was led by guard Charles Mann, who had 19 points on 6 of 14 shooting from the floor and 6 of 9 shooting from the free throw line.

The Bulldogs were able to overcome the Spartans’ second half run thanks to grabbing 12 offensive rebounds to Michigan State’s five and holding a massive 43-35 advantage on the boards as well.

Still, it was Michigan State’s overall defensive effort and ability to shoot well enough to win that did it. MSU held the Bulldogs to just 33.3 percent shooting, while shooting 45.6 percent on their own.

Michigan State will take on the winner of Virginia (2) vs. Belmont (15) in the third round on Sunday afternoon. If it plays like it did on Friday, beating either of those teams won’t be that easy — especially if it’s Tony Bennett’s top-ranked defense at UVa.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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