TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Nick Ward scored 19 points to help Michigan State atone for last season’s early NCAA Tournament disappointment with an opening-round 78-58 victory over Miami on Friday night.
The ninth-seeded Spartans (20-14) trailed by as many 12 points in the first half before blitzing past the stunned Hurricanes (21-12) the rest of the way, using a 20-2 first half run to take control for good.
Ward made his first six shots and finished 8 of 9 from the field, while Miles Bridges was 8 of 12 and added 18 points in the win. Joshua Langford had 13 points for Michigan State.
Ja’Quan Newton scored 16 points to lead Miami, which had won at least one tournament game in each of its previous three trips. Davon Reed added 12 points and Bruce Brown 11, and the Hurricanes shot just 40.4 percent (21 of 52).
The injury-riddled and youthful Spartans suited up only three players on Friday who saw action in last year’s opening-round loss as a No. 2 seed to Middle Tennessee State.
That inexperience showed early in the first half against an experienced Miami team that reached the Sweet 16 last season, one that had won at least one NCAA Tournament game in five of its six previous appearances.
With Brown hitting his first three shots, the Hurricanes bolted out to a 17-5 lead in the early minutes of the game and appeared comfortable against a Michigan State team that narrowly earned its 20th straight tournament appearance.
It was all Sparty from there.
Michigan State followed its early stumble by outscoring Miami 33-10 to close out the half, including a 20-2 run at one point, and took a 38-27 halftime lead — one it only added to in the second half.
Michigan State: The Spartans entered Friday having lost three of their last four games, but after the slow start, they looked like their usual comfortable selves in the postseason. Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament appearance streak is the third-longest active in the country, trailing only Kansas and Duke.
Miami: The Hurricanes also entered the game with losses in three of their last four games, but their resume included impressive wins against the likes of Atlantic Coast Conference foes North Carolina, Duke and Virginia. That experience wasn’t enough to slow the Spartans once they took control midway through the first half, with Miami being outrebounded 36-23 and allowing 17 second-chance points by Michigan State — including a final putback dunk by Ward to cap his night.
The Spartans advance to face top-seeded Kansas on Sunday.