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Michigan State comes out fighting, KOs Memphis

The SportsXchange

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Michigan State made Memphis fight for every shot and rebound in their Midwest Regional game on Saturday.

The Spartans even fought each other in one instance, but the end result was pretty predictable, and they are heading back to the Sweet 16.

Freshman Gary Harris had a career-high 23 points and Adreian Payne collected 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots as Michigan State reached the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the last six seasons with a 70-48 victory over the Tigers at The Palace.

Senior center Derrick Nix, who added 13 points, eight rebounds and four steals for the Spartans, was so amped that he wanted to beat up his roommate.

Nix had a heated exchange with junior guard Keith Appling during a second-half timeout and they threw towels at each other from opposite sides of the huddle.

"That's the way it is sometimes," Appling said. "Some guys want to win so bad that things get a little fiery at times, but at the end of the day, we're best friends.

"We've been on each other for a long time and it wasn't anything big."

Coach Tom Izzo said Nix was trying to get Appling to play better, but took the wrong approach. Izzo said it reminded him of an altercation between Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson in the hallway of The Palace during the NCAA Tournament Regionals in 2000.

"Nix threw a towel at his roommate, his best friend, his guy," Izzo said. "We have a tendency to do that. I need players to get on players, but sometimes Nix doesn't know how. He's trying to please me and he doesn't know exactly how."

Michigan State (27-8), the No. 3 seed, advanced to play the winner of Sunday's Duke-Creighton game on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis behind the shooting of Harris and the inside prowess of Payne.

Harris made 6-of-9 shots, including four 3-pointers, and 7-of-8 free throws.

"He's got a big heart and a lot of guts," Izzo said. "He wants to play in the big games and on the big stage."

Payne rebounded from a seven-point, six-turnover outing against Valparaiso in the tournament opener on Thursday.

"After the Valpo game, I felt I didn't play as well as I should have," Payne said. "At the end of the game, I came in and apologized to the team about my play. I told them I wouldn't let it happen again."

Geron Johnson's 16 points led sixth-seeded Memphis (31-5), which had lost only once since Dec. 15. The Tigers shot 29.7 percent and were out-rebounded, 49-29, allowing the Spartans to overcome 18 turnovers.

"We didn't think they were going to come out like that, making all those shots and getting and ones but all our problems came on offensive rebounding," Memphis guard Joe Jackson said.

"They just killed us on the boards. Every time we had a chance to cut the lead, they got an offensive rebound and scored."

The Tigers were also hurt by their 5-of-23 shooting from long range.

"If you're making shots, it opens everything up," Tigers coach Josh Pastner said. "We've been a very, very good 3-point shooting team. We've been shooting around 37 or 38 percent on the year and we shot 21 percent.

"Our game is to space the floor and make threes, and we've got good shooters. Unfortunately, we didn't shoot well and makes it that much tougher."

Shortly after the towel throwing incident, Harris picked up his fourth foul with 13:42 remaining. All the adversity seemed to fuel the Spartans.

Michigan State opened the half with a 13-3 run to take a 45-32 lead.

Payne was the driving force, scoring two putbacks and throwing down a dunk off Appling's lob to finish the run.

Payne also was a force defensively, deflecting a lob pass and taking a charge on a single possession. When Payne blocked D.J. Stephens' shot and then drained a 17-foot jumper with 9:05 remaining, Michigan State's lead was 52-37.

Appling had to leave the court after his right shoulder popped out and didn't return.

Nix committed a flagrant foul against Tarik Black with 5:13 left, but Black missed both free throws as Memphis was unable to cut its deficit below double digits.

The Tigers finished the first half on a 16-6 run to cut Michigan State's one-time 13-point lead to 32-29. Jackson and Adonis Thomas each made two layups during that spurt, while Johnson scored six of his 13 first-half points on two 3-pointers.

Harris poured in 16 points by halftime, including three 3-pointers during an 11-3 Michigan State burst that gave the Spartans their biggest first-half lead, 26-13.

NOTES: The Spartans have an 18-3 all-time record in their second game of the tournament, losing only to No. 1 seeds. ... Michigan State reached the Sweet 16 in 10 of the last 15 seasons. Duke, with 12, is the only school with more Sweet 16 appearances over the last 15 seasons. ... Memphis had a 2-0 all-time record against Michigan State, including a 92-74 Sweet 16 victory in 2008. That was the Tigers' most recent victory over a Big Ten team.
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