KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Drew Neitzel drifted along the baseline, brushed through a pick by Marquise Gray and spotted up in the corner. The high-arching shot was never in doubt, barely rippling the net as it passed through.
After all but disappearing in the second half, Neitzel hit the shots when Michigan State needed it, and it still almost wasn’t enough.
Neitzel made a late 3-pointer and hit two free throws with 2.4 seconds left, helping No. 10 Michigan State survive Missouri’s relentless defensive pressure in an 86-83 victory Monday night in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.
“It’s a set play for us; we had run it before but ‘Quise didn’t set the pick,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He (Neitzel) struggled at times and then he made some of the biggest plays of the game.”
Neitzel had little trouble getting where he wanted when he wanted in the first half, spotting up for 3-pointers, flicking in fadeways, whipping passes across the court and through the lane. The preseason All-American had 16 points at the break, but took just four shots in the second making just one—the biggest of the game.
“The second half they tried to deny me the ball, keep it out of my hands and let me get the ball in scoring position,” Neitzel said.
Michigan State (3-0) struggled all night with Missouri’s full-court pressure, twice losing double digits leads. The Spartans seemed to have the game all but won when Neitzel hit a 3-pointer with just over 2 minutes left, but the Tigers kept coming.
Stefhon Hannah hit three 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds, the last an off-balance heave with 3.5 seconds left that hit the rim and bounced in to cut Michigan State’s lead to 84-83. The Tigers fouled Neitzel immediately and the preseason All-American calmly sank both for the Spartans’ toughest win of the season.
Neitzel had 21 points and Raymar Morgan added 19 for Michigan State, which moves on to face second-ranked UCLA in the championship game Tuesday night.
“Some of our younger players weren’t ready for that kind of pressure and intensity at this time of the year,” Izzo said. “It’s great when you can learn and still win. That’s what we did.”
Missouri (3-1) certainly didn’t make it easy.
Trailing by as much as 16 in the first half, the Tigers got back in it by swarming the Spartans with full-court pressure, rallying from a 12-point deficit early in the second half. Hannah finished with 20 points, going 5-for-11 from 3-point range, and DeMarre Carroll added 12, barely missing the chance to give a pro-Missouri crowd a chance to go home happy.
“We had them rattled, but we missed some big shots,” Carroll said.
Carroll, Missouri’s leading scorer and rebounder, started slow and finished strong. The junior forward had a hard time getting into the flow early, taking just two shots, missing both, and spent the final 6 1/2 minutes on the bench after a turnover.
Carroll seemed to gain confidence after opening the second half with a power move inside, leading Missouri’s comeback. He followed his breakaway dunk on Neitzel’s turnover with a putback to get the Tigers within three, then kept a rebound alive for a 3-pointer by Hannah that made it 72-71.
“I think he was getting frustrated, in game of this magnitude you want to do something so bad,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “We have to find ways to get him the basketball so he can be effective.”
Michigan State wants to play more of an up-tempo style this season and is still trying to work out the kinks.
The Spartans had to pull out a win over Louisiana-Monroe on Wednesday after committing 20 turnovers and had plenty of trouble with Missouri’s pressure defense, particularly when Neitzel wasn’t on the floor.
Michigan State had 17 turnovers, most of those coming in bunches. The Spartans turned it over on three straight possessions late in the first half to allow Missouri to cut the lead to 10, then did it again midway through the second as the Tigers pulled within seven.
Even Neitzel was susceptible, getting stripped near midcourt, leading to a breakaway dunk by Carroll that cut Michigan State’s lead to 67-62.
“We’re a spurt team,” Anderson said. “We may be down 17, 18 points, but we’re capable of making up that ground in a short time. That was evident tonight.”