By LARRY LAGE/AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – McNeese State played No. 2 Michigan State tough enough for 5-plus minutes – and actually had the lead.
The Cowboys were ahead by a point for 15 seconds before Gary Harris made a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and helped the Spartans pull away to rout the Cowboys 98-56 on Friday night in the opener for both teams.
“Looking at what we did early, there’s some positive things we’re going to take back from this,” McNeese State coach Dave Simmons said.
Michigan State scored 10 straight points after trailing 13-12 early in the game and opened the second half with an 11-0 run to take a 63-25 lead.
“We were feeling pretty good at first,” Cowboys forward Craig McFerrin said. “I don’t know what happened. When we stopped hitting shots, they really started running.”
Ledrick Eackles and Jamaya Burr led the Cowboys with 11 points each.
The Spartans kept multiple starters in the game until there were 5 minutes left, when Branden Dawson made a second straight dunk. They will face much tougher competition in Chicago against Kentucky.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the game on Tuesday,” Simmons said unsolicited.
A lot of college basketball fans are, too.
Michigan State had six scorers in double digits – led by Harris with 20 points – and outrebounded the Cowboys 66-29.
“They’re a good team, I could see why they’re the No. 2 team in the country,” McFerrin said.
The Spartans made 52 percent of their shots and held McNeese State to 27.4 shooting, playing better at both ends of the court after a shaky start.
Michigan State had some success early – making its first two shots, both 3-pointers – before struggling to make open shots and get the ball into open spaces against the Cowboys’ zone.
That led to McNeese State taking the lead before getting outscored 40-12 the rest of the first half.
“Coach said if we could come out and hit shots, we had a chance to win,” McNeese State guard Keelan Garrett said. “We knew they were going to hit some and they did. When we started missing, we didn’t get back. When you do that against a really good team – one with size, rebounding and strong shooters – this is what happens.”
The Spartans turned a 52-25 lead at halftime into a 38-point cushion early in the second half. Michigan State scored 40 points on the fast break and turned 18 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points.
“I didn’t know they were that great in transition,” Simmons said.
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