PEORIA, Ill. (AP)—Drew Neitzel figured this would be a difficult night for Michigan State. Luckily for the Spartans, he heated up just in time.
Neitzel’s clutch 3-pointer started an important run, Raymar Morgan scored 15 and the ninth-ranked Spartans beat Bradley 66-61 on Tuesday night.
“This is huge for us,” Neitzel said. “We knew there were going to be some ups and downs with the crowd getting into it, but we kept fighting it and made a comeback there at the end.”
Michigan State (7-1) trailed by nine in the second half but Neitzel came through in the latter stages after struggling for most of the game.
His 3 with just under 5 minutes left cut it to 51-50 and started a 7-0 surge that put the Spartans ahead for good, 54-51. Drew Naymick had a big rebound dunk and Kalin Lucas also scored during the run.
It was 59-55 after Morgan whipped a pass across the paint to Goran Suton for a layup with 1:46 left, but the drama was far from over.
Neitzel was unable to get a shot off in time, resulting in a shot-clock violation with 55 seconds left. Then, after a miss by Bradley’s Jeremy Crouch, Neitzel made one of two free throws to make it a five-point game with 45 seconds left.
Bradley (6-3) got within three, but Neitzel hit two more free throws to make it 64-59 with 16 seconds remaining. That ended the Braves’ upset bid and quieted what had been a raucous crowd.
“As a shooter, you’ve just got to keep your confidence,” Neitzel said. “My teammates kept giving me confidence, told me to keep shooting. It worked out in the end.”
Neitzel and Lucas finished with 13 points apiece.
“It was a huge win for us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I did not think we played great.”
But the Spartans did dominate in one area: rebounding.
They owned a 48-29 edge on the boards, allowing them to win on a night when they shot 40.7 percent.
“The party starts when the ball goes up on the rim,” Bradley coach Jim Les said. “And they did a lot more partying than we did.”
Bradley is no stranger to big games, with back-to-back 22-win seasons and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago. This was different, though. Not since they beat Tulsa on Feb. 27, 1982, had the Braves hosted a top 10 opponent.
Daniel Ruffin did his best to help Bradley get the upset, scoring 17 points, but he was just 6-for-17 from the field. His teammates were off target, too. Bradley shot just 21-of-55 and was 8-of-25 on 3-pointers.
Crouch scored 13 for Bradley, a 29-point loser at Michigan State last season.
A record crowd of 11,597 wearing white T-shirts jammed Carver Arena, creating a “white out” in the stands to go with a deafening roar.
The Braves gave them plenty to cheer, especially when Ruffin and Theron Wilson hit 3-pointers to help Bradley take a 37-31 lead just under 5 minutes into the second half. Another three by Crouch and two free throws by Sam Singh made it 42-33 with 13:58 left.
But instead of an upset, there was a comeback. Instead of a celebration, a crowd that spent much of the night chanting “BU! BU!” fell silent.
And in the end, Michigan State let out a big sigh of relief.
The Spartans boast one of their deepest rosters of the Izzo era, and face another tough road game when they play No. 20 Brigham Young in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
“It was tough,” Neitzel said of the comeback win over the Braves. “The crowd was really into it. They were standing most of the game and they were together. You’ve got to give Bradley credit. They were ready for the game. They played a great game.”