March 5, 1999
By RICK GANO
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP)-- Mateen Cleaves' shots were clanking. Michigan State was
struggling. And just like a year ago, it appeared the top-seeded Spartans were
headed for an early exit from the Big Ten tournament.
This time Cleaves collected himself and hit the shot that counted most - a
floater with 37 seconds remaining that gave the Spartans an emotional 61-59
quarterfinal victory over scrappy Northwestern.
"They deserved to win the game and we won the game," Michigan State coach
Tom Izzo said after the second-ranked Spartans extended their winning streak to
"We were outplayed. We were outhustled and that hasn't happened to us in
two months. Sometimes they say you got to be lucky. I look back at my 16 years
and I think of some games we deserved to win and we lost. So maybe it evens
The Spartans (27-4), aiming for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, will face
No. 19 Wisconsin - the only team to beat them in the Big Ten this season and
the last team to beat them way back on Jan. 6 - in Saturday's semifinals.
Cleaves, just 5-of-35 shooting in his two previous appearances at the United
Center, including a quarterfinal loss to Minnesota last year when the Spartans
were also the top seed, was 2-of-9 Friday when his clutch shot broke a 59-59
"Every game, all the shots are not going to go in," Cleaves said.
"I feel lucky a little bit. We've won games by larger margins, but the main
thing is to win. I wasn't thinking about the last shot. I was just thinking of
getting the ball on the rim and giving it a chance to go in," he said
"My job is to run the team. My job is not to lead the team in scoring."
Following two timeouts by Northwestern, Michigan State's Antonio Smith
blocked a layup attempt by the Wildcats' David Newman. Fellow freshman Steve
Lepore got the rebound and put up a desperation shot that missed and Smith got
the rebound as the clock ran out.
Northwestern (15-13) couldn't play much better.
Evan Eschmeyer, the 6-foot-11, sixth-year senior, scored 30 points for the
"We played well enough to win," O'Neill said. "That's what Big Ten
basketball is all about - crowded arenas, close games, kids playing hard,
referees missing three-point plays on Eschmeyer over and over."
Northwestern, which lost to State by 17 earlier in the season, played tough
defense and, for the most part, shut off the Spartans' running game. And they
let Eschmeyer operate in the low block.
"I just feel bad that we pissed away an NCAA bid and let it get away, with
him still here," O'Neill said of Eschmeyer . "I really feel bad about that."
Northwestern led 59-56 and had the ball, but freshman Tavaras Hardy's jumper
was way short with 1:53 to go. State then tied the game on Morris Peterson's
3-pointer with 1:42 left.
After Lepore missed a hurried jumper, Cleaves found a seam in the lane,
drove through and floated up his go-ahead shot. He finished with just six
Andre Hutson scored 15 and Jason Klein 13 for the Spartans, who had a 17-4
advantage in offensive rebounds.
Newman, who kept Cleaves in check throughout the game, hit back-to-back
3-pointers to bring the Wildcats to a 49 tie with 7:25 left.
State took a five-point lead on a basket by Charlie Bell and two free throws
by Klein, but Northwestern kept scrapping. Finally, Eschmeyer powered inside
for two baskets and the Wildcats had their final lead at 59-56 with three
minutes to go.