Something wasn’t right for Michigan State in the opening minutes of its Round of 64 matchup with Valparaiso Thursday. The Spartans looked out of sync, confused by Valparaiso’s double teams on the defensive end, and prone to turnovers. But one Branden Dawson alley-oop slam changed all of that.
Dawson’s dunk off an assist from Denzel Valentine was the official end of Michigan State’s slow start, as the Spartans finished the half on a 27-10 and maintained momentum in the second half for a 65-54 win at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hill, Mich.
Michigan State made it a point to work the ball into the interior to big man Derrick Nix, who finished with a double-double of 23 points and 15 rebounds. His ability to draw attention in the paint opened up shooter on the perimeter, including guard Keith Appling, who had 15 points.
The Spartans now move on to play the winner of Saint Mary’s and Memphis. That game tips off at 2:45 p.m. ET on Saturday.
If Memphis advances, Michigan State will want to do the same sorts of things it did Thursday to be successful and advance to the Sweet 16. By working the ball into the paint to Nix and Adreian Payne, Harris, Appling and the rest get open shots from deep or lanes to drive to the basket. Hitting shots and not turning the ball over would keep Memphis from getting out in transition, where they thrive.
If Saint Mary’s upsets Memphis and moves on, the focus will be Matthew Dellavedova. He had 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the Gaels’ First Four win over Middle Tennessee. If he is neutralized, the engine of the rest of the Saint Mary’s offensive attack is slowed as well.