No. 13 Michigan St. 72, Ark.-Little Rock 67
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP)—Paul Davis staged his own second-half rally for the second straight game.
Michigan State’s senior center scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the final 20 minutes Saturday to lead the No. 13 Spartans to a 72-67 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock at Van Andel Arena.
“In the first half, I didn’t play well, and as a team we didn’t play well,” Davis said. “I felt it was my responsibility to get myself and my team rolling.”
Davis scored the first nine points of the second half for Michigan State (5-2), sparking a 16-3 run that broke a 30-30 halftime tie with the Trojans (3-2).
In Wednesday’s 88-86 victory over Georgia Tech, Davis scored 19 of his 22 points after the break.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was pleased with Davis and the play of point guard Drew Neitzel, who had nine points and a career-high nine assists in front of 11,654 home fans.
But Izzo was not enthused, for the second straight contest, about his team’s overall toughness.
“They played with a tenacity that we’re really just missing yet,” Izzo said of Arkansas-Little Rock, which outrebounded the much bigger Spartans 29-25. “Our rebounding and toughness is where it’s at, and it’s not where it needs to be.”
Maurice Ager scored 22 points and Shannon Brown had 14 for Michigan State. Lekheythan Malone led Arkansas-Little Rock with 19 points. Elijah Muldrow had 15, Zack Wright scored 14 and Rashad Jones-Jennings had 10.
The Trojans pulled within five points several times in the final 20 minutes, but the Spartans fended them off with timely stops and baskets. Michigan State shot 57.9 percent from the field in the second half, but had just eight fast-break points in the game.
“I was very proud of our guys’ effort, focus and intensity level,” Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields said. “Our transition defense had to be as good as it’s ever been.”
After Davis left with his fourth foul and 3:26 left, Matt Trannon had a key inside basket for Michigan State for a 64-56 lead with 3:08 to play. Trannon, a receiver on the Spartans’ football team, was playing in his first basketball game this season.
Arkansas-Little Rock led 23-16 with 6:54 left in the first half after three free throws, one on a technical foul on Izzo for protesting a foul call.
The Spartans seemed to wake up from there, going on a 9-0 run to retake the lead. Neitzel had a pair of baskets during the spurt. His driving layup ended a field-goal drought of more than four minutes. Ager’s steal and breakaway dunk put the Spartans back up, 25-23.