Michigan State 73, Utah 61
CLEVELAND (AP) _ Mateen Cleaves couldn’t bare the thought of never playing another game in his Michigan State uniform.
And once Cleaves decided his college career wasn’t ending Saturday, Utah couldn’t do anything to stop him.
``It was like a demon came out of him or something,″ Spartans forward Morris Peterson said.
Cleaves scored 21 points _ 13 in the second half _ as No. 1 seed Michigan State rallied and earned a chance to play close to home next week with a 73-61 win over Utah in the second round of NCAA Midwest Regional.
Michigan State (28-7) will play Syracuse on Thursday in the regional semifinals in Auburn Hills, Mich., about an 80-mile drive from the Spartans’ East Lansing campus.
The fourth-seeded Orangemen moved on Saturday with a 52-50 victory over fifth-seeded Kentucky.
``We’re going back to friendly territory,″ Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. ``Unfortunately, we’ll never get enough tickets.″
For a while, tickets were the least of Michigan State’s problems.
Utah (23-9), reduced to just seven scholarship players because of injuries, led for most of the first half and had a three-point advantage at the break.
That’s when Izzo gave his players a pep talk they won’t forget.
``He got in our faces, he got in the faces of everybody there,″ said Cleaves. ``Thank God we were able to answer the bell.
Cleaves, the senior point guard who turned down NBA millions for a chance to win an NCAA title, scored 11 points during 27-7 run that put the Spartans in control and in the regional semis.
During the spree, Cleaves did a little bit of everything. He made a pair of 3-pointers, set up his teammates for easy baskets, got the Michigan State crowd fired up and finally put away the eighth-seeded Utes (23-9).
``That’s why he’s a great leader,″ said Syracuse center Etan Thomas, who stuck around long enough to watch Michigan State open a 14-point lead in the second half.
Sitting in the locker room at haltime, the possibility of losing hit Cleaves right between the eyes.
``When it’s your senior year, all you start thinking about is, ’Man, this could be the last time on the floor. It could have been my last game in the green and white. And I wasn’t ready for that.″
Andre Hutson added 19 points and Morris Peterson had 13 for Michigan State, two victories away from getting back to a second straight Final Four.
Hanno Mottola led the Utes with 16 points, Tony Harvey had 15 and Alex Jensen 13 for the Utes, who shot 52 percent from the floor and made just nine turnovers.
Utah didn’t figure to have much of a chance. But coach Rick Majerus prepared his team well and the Utes never backed down.
``All of the injuries just made our margin for error real small,″ Jensen said.
Majerus, who cried during the postgame news conference talking about his team’s effort, had nothing but praise for Michigan State.
``If I could pick one team, I’d be the jockey for that horse,″ he said. ``We’ve played the national champion four times in this tournament. These guys have got the look of a national champ.
``They’re awful damn good. There’s a reason they are seeded No. 1. I really like their team. It must be fun to coach them.″
Michigan State lost all three games it trailed at halftime during the regular season, and when Utah made its first four shots of the second half, the Spartans looked like they might be in trouble.
But Cleaves, who made four 3-pointers, was about to change that.
His 3-pointer from the top of the key brought the Spartans within 43-42 with 16:36 left, and as he retreated on defense, Cleaves urged on the Michigan State cheering section and then screamed ``Let’s Go!″ and slapped hands with his teammates as they passed him near midcourt.
``Mateen is the kind of player that can rise up,″ Izzo said. ``When he gets mad he’s even better. He’s an easy guy to challenge.″
Utah missed a chance to get some momentum back when Jeff Johnsen fumbled an alley-oop pass, and after a timeout, Cleaves made sure the Utes would never recover.
He split two defenders with a crossover dribble near the foul line, and then ducked under Mottola for a double-pumping layup to give the Spartans a 44-43 lead _ their first since 11-9.
Sensing the kill, Michigan State, which held Valparaiso to 25-percent shooting in the first round, then turned up its defensive pressure and suddenly the shots Utah was getting in the first half were gone.
Peterson and A.J. Granger hit 3-pointers as Michigan State opened a 57-47 lead, and Cleaves drained another trey with 7:30 remaining to make it 64-50.
A few moments later, Cleaves found Peterson for an alley-oop dunk that punctuated the win and brought out two banners.
One said: ``Next stop, Auburn Hills.″
The other might have said it all: ``Cleavesland, Ohio.″
On the Net: NCAA tournament: http://www.finalfour.net