for this game

Neitzel, Lucas lift Michigan State over Pitt

Mar 23, 2008 - 4:34 AM DENVER (Ticker) -- In a matchup of two of the nation's most physical teams, Michigan State's two smallest players made the difference.

Drew Neitzel scored 21 points and freshman guard Kalin Lucas added 19 to power the fifth-seeded Spartans to a 65-54 victory over No. 4 Pittsburgh on Saturday night in a second-round South Regional matchup.

Playing in its 11th consecutive NCAA Tournament, Michigan State (26-8) snapped the Panthers' six-game winning streak to advance to the "Sweet 16" for the first time since 2005.

"I think Pittsburgh is one of the most physical teams in the country with their big guys inside," Neitzel said. "We did a great job of matching their physical play. We stayed aggressive. We didn't back down. I think that's what we needed."

The Spartans did it behind a stifling defense and the sensational play of their 6-foot guards, who combined to score 15 of 17 points during a decisive stretch to seize control of the game.

Michigan State also held Pittsburgh (26-10) without a field goal for nine minutes in the second half to move onto a meeting with either Memphis or Mississippi State.

"They couldn't drive on us," Spartans guard Travis Walton said. "Our bigs did an unbelievable drive of changing our pick-and-roll defense, as far as feathering instead of stepping up how we usually do. Just an unbelievable job from the coaches and from the team, our team effort."

Levance Fields scored 19 points to lead the Panthers, who shot 31.5 percent (17-of-54) and made just one field goal in the final 9 1/2 minutes. Pitt also was outrebounded, 37-26.

"Michigan State is a tough team," Fields said. "I don't think this is your normal second-round game in a tournament. But obviously this was the game. We battled. They battled. But, like Coach said, they outrebounded us. That was something we couldn't afford to happen. That helped them to prevail to a victory."

Goran Suton scored six of his 14 points early in the second half as the Spartans built a double-digit lead at 40-30, but a layup by Sam Young capped a 14-2 run and gave Pitt a 44-42 lead with 9:42 to play.

With the momentum clearly on the Panthers' side, Lucas responded by converting a three-point play to put Michigan State in front for good, 45-44.

Neitzel took over shortly thereafter, scoring eight straight points on a pair of 3-pointers and a foul-line jumper to make it 55-50 with 4:15 to play.

"I love the fact he took those three shots," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of Neitzel. "He's passed up shots in my mind all year long. The last couple weeks he hasn't passed up any shots. He's got to shoot it."

"This is it. This is my last run," Neitzel said. "So I don't want to have any regrets. I just want to go out there and be aggressive and play the game the way I have my whole life. And that's aggressive, take shots."

After Young hit a pair of free throws - part of eight straight at the stripe by Pitt - to cut the deficit to three, Lucas scored on back-to-back layups to extend the margin to 59-52 with 1:49 to play.

"As far as the second half, when I went coast-to-coast, my coach just tell me when I get the ball to push it, so that's what I did," Lucas said. "I just pushed the ball up the floor. I seen an open lane to the basket."

Suton scored 14 points and Neitzel hit five 3-pointers for the Spartans, who limited the Panthers to 2-of-17 shooting from the arc.

"We obviously didn't shoot it well," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "But they seemed to have got the breaks at the end, went from a two-point lead for us, just some things went their way."