Cassius Winston scored 26 points to lead No. 2 Michigan State to a 76-65 victory over No. 15 Bradley in Thursday’s first round of the East Region of the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa.
Winston made all eight of his free throws and the Spartans (29-6) finished 25 of 26 at the stripe. Xavier Tillman had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Matt McQuaid added 10 points. Michigan State will next face No. 10 Minnesota on Saturday. The Golden Gophers topped No. 7 Louisville 86-76 in Thursday’s first game.
Elijah Childs scored 19 to lead Bradley (20-15), the tournament champions from the Missouri Valley Conference who were back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years. Darrell Brown added 17 points, Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye scored 14 and the Braves made nine 3-pointers to keep the game close.
It didn’t take Michigan State long to realize it was in for a fight as Bradley jumped to a quick 10-4 lead, nailing a pair of 3-pointers. The Spartans responded with a 9-0 run to take a 13-10 lead, but the momentum would be short lived for Michigan State.
The Spartans could never pull away, going just 2 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half. Meanwhile, Bradley buried 6 of 9 from long range, its final two giving the Braves a 35-34 lead at halftime after Michigan State failed to get a shot off on its final possession.
After Childs scored the first four points of the second half, Michigan State went on a 10-0 run to take a 44-39 lead with 16:49 to play and pushed that advantage to 50-43, capping a 16-4 surge when Nick Ward hit a pair of free throws.
But two straight turnovers led to five Bradley points in a matter of seconds, followed by an offensive foul on Ward with 11:34 to play.
Brown then buried a deep 3-pointer to give Bradley a 51-50 lead with 11:24 to play, and the teams went back and forth over the next few possessions. Tillman put Michigan State ahead 54-53 on a layup with 7:43 left in the game, but Childs answered with a jumper on the next possession to put the Braves up 55-54.
Winston then scored four straight to put Michigan State up 58-55 with little more than four minutes to play. McQuaid followed with a 3-pointer from the wing followed by a jumper in the lane from Aaron Henry to give the Spartans a 63-55 lead with 2:41 to play.
Bradley ran out of gas from there as Michigan State converted 11 of its last 12 free throws.
—Field Level Media