Spartans overcome sluggish start
Gary Harris shed the protective sleeve on his sprained left shoulder, then led Michigan State to a big comeback win.
Harris scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the second half as the 19th-ranked Spartans beat Loyola of Chicago 73-61 on Saturday. Harris shot 7-for-11 from the field, including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers.
"He’s a very unselfish kid," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He took the brace off today, and I’m not sure I like that. I might be fist-fighting the doctors today. But he has a chance to be a great player."
Adreian Payne added 14 points and 10 rebounds for Michigan State (8-2), his second double-double in the last three games. Travis Trice had 11 points, while Keith Appling, the Spartans’ top scorer this season, added eight points and seven assists, mostly on feeds to Harris.
"If I’m open, I’m going to shoot the ball," Harris said after being challenged at halftime. "I need to come out like that at the beginning instead of having someone get into me."
Ben Averkamp had 25 points, including four 3s, and eight rebounds for the Ramblers (6-3). Devon Turk added 10 points.
"We have to learn we can’t just be close," Loyola coach Porter Moser said. "Michigan State has a culture. And we were a step slow getting to Harris and a little uneasy in the second half. We have to compete for 40 minutes."
Michigan State used a 22-9 run, including three 3s from Harris, to start the second half and build a 52-41 lead. Loyola-Chicago clawed back within three, but saw its last push end with a jumper by Appling and a putback dunk by Payne.
"It was a tough game," Izzo said. "We didn’t play great. We didn’t play bad. We had a couple of rough stretches with really foolish turnovers. But we took a little step in the right direction."
The Spartans shot 49 percent from the field and the Ramblers just 36. But Loyola, winner of four straight coming in, held its own on the boards against one of the nation’s top rebounding programs, trailing just 33-31.
The Ramblers overcame a 10-point deficit and took a 28-25 lead on a 3 from Cully Payne, a transfer from Iowa who played at Breslin Center in 2010. Loyola’s advantage reached five and was 32-30 at halftime, after going 5-for-9 from long range and shot six free throws after fouls on other 3s.
"Our guys have to learn that we’re right there," Averkamp said. "Moving forward, if we learn from this, it was a good game for us. If not, we really have to look at ourselves."
Averkamp and Turk each had eight first-half points for the Ramblers, who were outrebounded and outshot from the field and the line in the first half. Payne had nine points and five rebounds for the Spartans before the break, but starting guards Appling and Denzel Valentine were scoreless.
Michigan State had allowed just 39 and 44 points in its previous two games. It was a different story against an improved opponent that didn’t win its sixth game last season until Feb. 11. But the Spartans regrouped and left with their 70th straight win at home over an unranked non-league opponent.
Next Saturday, both teams will pay tribute to the "Game of Change," a matchup 50 seasons ago that helped integrate college athletics. The Ramblers will face Mississippi State, the all-white team they beat en route to the 1963 national title. Michigan State will host Tuskegee in Jenison FIeld House, the scene of one of the sport’s most important games.