Cleaves Won’t Let Team Fall
One by one, Mateen Cleaves heard about the upsets: Utah, Cincinnati, Miami. Then he’d look up at the scoreboard and see his own Michigan State team threatening to become an upset victim.
Finally, Cleaves decided enough was enough--scoring seven points and getting two assists during a late 13-0 run on Sunday that lifted No. 1-seeded Michigan State past feisty No. 9-seeded Mississippi, 74-66, in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
“I was like, ‘All these teams are getting upset and we’re in a tight game.’ So it was in the back of my head for a little bit,” said Cleaves, who led Michigan State with 18 points. "[Stepping up] is sort of my role on this team. The guys sort of give me that look. I just try to turn it up and, thank God, my shots went in down the stretch.”
As the final seconds ticked down, the large contingent of Michigan State fans chanted “Sweet 16, Sweet 16.” The Spartans (31-4) play one of the second round’s upset winners--No. 13-seeded Oklahoma (22-10)--Friday in St. Louis.
Despite a decided size disadvantage, Mississippi (20-13) almost gave Michigan State more than it could handle. The Rebels crashed the backboards and hustled for every loose ball.
But after 5-foot-5 Ryan Harrison made a three-point shot over the 6-2 Cleaves to give Mississippi a 59-56 lead with 4:54 left, Michigan State’s point guard took over.
Cleaves came back with a three-point basket of his own, then gave Michigan State the lead by scoring on a layup. After passing to Antonio Smith for a basket, Cleaves then made a steal and a breakaway basket. After a Mississippi timeout and missed shot, Morris Peterson scored on an open jumper after a pass from Cleaves. Two free throws by A.J. Granger completed the 13-0 run.
Michigan State--perhaps feeling the pressure of the No. 1 seeded team--looked tight most of the game. Cleaves had five turnovers in the first half--one less than he had the entire Big Ten tournament--and Mississippi held a 32-29 lead at halftime.
“We knew we could match their talent, but we had to match their intensity,” Antonio Smith said of the Rebels.
Michigan State started the second half with a 13-4 run to take a 42-36 lead, but each time the Spartans seemed to be on the verge of pulling way, the scrappy Rebels found some way to come back.
Marcus Hicks scored five points to cut Michigan State’s lead to 50-48 with 8:54 left, and Keith Carter tied the game at 54-54 on a layup. Then Harrison intercepted a Cleaves pass and whipped the ball to Jason Smith, whose layup gave Mississippi a 56-54 lead with 5:50 left.
On the Rebels’ next possession, Harrison launched the three-point shot that woke up Cleaves.
“We call that money time,” Cleaves said with a grin.